Hotel restaurants are a funny bunch… they’re either utterly glamorous, polished and refined, with a devoted chef and exquisite service, or they’re bland and generic, imitating luxury with a cookie-cutter menu. The newly-opened il Pampero, on the ground floor of the Hari hotel in Belgravia, sits at the former of the two ends of the spectrum.
We wander into the slick, stylish restaurant wishing we’d taken the opportunity to dress up a bit more. Sumptuous dark green walls and upholstery, brass fittings, crisp white tablecloths and an art deco-esque tiled floor are softened and updated with just a hint of pale pink lighting around the bar, which forms the centrepiece of the space. We’re shown to a comfortable booth and offered a cocktail. Yes, please. We opt for one of their signature house spritzes as well as a curiously smoky negroni (the Messicano), topped with torched star anise, and turn our attention to the menu.
Don’t you just hate/love it when you find the dishes on a menu totally impossible to choose from? Starters are a done deal – sea bass carpaccio (subtle and delicate, its texture contrasted by a sprinkling of pistachio) and lamb sweetbreads sitting on wild mushrooms dressed in sweetly acidic white balsamic. But then comes the pasta, which is handmade in-house and promises authentically Italian carb-y deliciousness.
Our train of thought went something like this: We must try the vongole – it’s basically a national dish, right? But then we couldn’t have the pappardelle with lobster… could we? And if we’re going for a staple, surely it’s got to be the cacio e pepe? That chestnut tagliatelle with hare ragout is winking at us, too… but then if we also have the rigatoni with artichokes and pork cheek pancetta (swine-swoon) will that be too meaty? Didn’t she say there was a special too? Ummmm….
Luckily for us, the waitress put us out of our misery (almost… we would happily have eaten the whole lot) by letting us try a few as smaller portions. They were all delicious – close your eyes and you could almost be in Italy – but the stand-out was the pumpkin gnocchi, melt-in-the-mouth soft and smothered in the punchy funk of taleggio cheese that hits your nose before it hits your mouth, topped with a flourish of truffle shavings. So simple, and yet totally indulgent.
Still buzzing off a gnocchi-high, we were coaxed into ordering a pudding by the waitress (not that we put up much of a fight). We went for the “Bicchierino di Frolla, Zabaione Freddo e Mandarino”. If, like us, your Italian’s not up to much (mi scusa), that’s basically a shortcrust pastry case with a chilled custard-like filling and sweet, juicy pieces of peeled mandarin. The nutty, crisp pastry, light, semifreddo-esque filling, slightly brûléed on top, and sweet pops of mandarin flesh was the perfect relief after the carb-fest that was our pasta order.
All that beautiful Italian food, served in a gorgeous restaurant, by staff in crisp white jackets that have a twinkle in their eye and a joke up their starched sleeves. We’re charmed.
We The Food Snobs x