A smart Italian restaurant in the City of London can’t go wrong. Gatti’s, surrounded as it is by investment banks and other high-flying multinationals in the Broadgate-Finsbury Avenue area, a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street station, must do a roaring lunchtime trade among the well-heeled business lunch crowd, though in the evening things get much quieter.
In fact, at the point where we arrived at 7 on a Tuesday evening, no other tables were occupied, though there was later a table my companion thought reminded her of the Godfather – not that I am suggesting for a moment Gatti’s should be Gotti’s!
Granted the bulk of the City population is back on the train to Esher or Tunbridge Wells or St Albans or wherever in the evening, but a quick glance at the menu tells you Gatti’s is not a restaurant catering for the pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap trade. With prices for standard pasta dishes hovering around the £14.50 mark (yes, spag bol and all), with many meat and fish dishes pushing well over £20, you know Gatti’s are not competing with the chains. Indeed, as they point out on their website:
Gatti’s provide mouthwatering authentic Italian cuisine in the heart of the city. All dishes are cooked to order, from fresh ingredients, reflected in the regularly changing ‘special menus’; you can eat many times at Gatti’s and always enjoy a new experience. Your table will be served by attentive Italian staff who understand their native cuisine and know their country’s wines well, so you can be confident in their guidance.
So then – fine attention to detail and old-fashioned is what you get for the money, and we were agreed that in spite of the modern block in which the restaurant resides there was a curious sense of stepping back 50 years or more about Gatti’s – except for the bill. Ergo, it seems quite reasonable to judge Gattis on the basis of fine dining food and service.
On that basis, there were a few gripes along the way. Here is one: they whack on the bill a £1.25 cover charge, presumably in respect of the single and fairly average bread roll offered with the meal. They also add 12.5% service charge on top, so by definition the actual cover is £1.41 thanks to the compounded effect of both additions. When your prices are already steep, this artificial bumping up of the final bill amounts to sharp practice of the kind stamped out long since as customers vote with their feet.
But there we go, a cover charge is added. Since it is added, we should not have had to ask for salad dressings – oil and balsamic should have been on the table already, though when did you last see an Italian restaurant serving completely naked salads, and apparently no intent to offer anything to cover their embarrassment? Luckily, we asked and were given, though the waiter looked distinctly surprised. Black mark for poor service there – should have been deducted from the 12.5%!
As it happens, we ate lightly – just a Rigatoni Arrabbiata and Ravioli Emiliana al burro e salvia plus two salads. Both are simple, but the skill comes in the construction from scratch. Freshly made pasta was welcome, and in the case of the rigatoni a portion that was both vast and studded with unadvertised buffalo mozzarella. The filling of the ravioli was delicious and the pasta itself up to scratch; the plate was dominated by a huge sage leaf and buttery sauce. Shame that the dish arrived lukewarm and chilled fast, which would not have impressed my mother.
I was surprised that the Parmigiano was already grated rather than grated to order; it didn’t taste stale, but clearly had been hanging around waiting for customers, and would continue to wait. Our two side salads, once removed from their naked state, only rated as mediocre, particularly a minimal tomato and red onion salad featuring cold and bland toms rather than the sweetest produce the vine has to offer.
Two glasses of Barbera d’Asti Fiulot (Prunotto Piedmont 2012) proved a fine pairing with the pasta. “Fragrant with hints of plum and cherry. Well structured and soft, showing the typical red fruit and bright character of the Barbera variety” says the menu, with which I could not argue but for a welcome lingering aftertaste of spice.
Two decent coffees followed. With a bottle of sparkling water, the bill exceeded £72: not much food and drink for the money, and if we had partaken of starters, meaty mains, an impressive dessert trolley and a full bottle, that price would have pushed the bill up to £60-70 per head minimum. Fine – charge premium prices, but leave customers feeling that they gained value and service in the top flight, never a contingency I felt with Gatti’s.
In spite of a virtually empty restaurant and even allowing for an obsequious front of house manager, service could only be rated as so-so. For the money there was a lot that could and should have been done better, no matter how decent the home-made pasta – but then if you are running a first class establishment, every detail should be thought through. Should do better.