The welcome: Shaftesbury Avenue’s not normally been associated with upmarket places to eat, but after the recent advent of Talli Joe and now the opening of Café Monico (in what used to be an awful sports bar), there is the happy change that anyone wanting something more sophisticated as a pre-theatre spot now has some more appealing options. And they don’t get more appealing that the new Café Monico, a Soho House standalone restaurant that has managed to recruit the great Rowley Leigh as its consultant chef. First impressions are of switched-on, smiley staff. Will it last?
The room: Something of a cross between The Ivy and nearby Les Deux Salons, the elegant dual-level space features a number of cosy banquettes and intimate tables for dinners-a-deux, many of which face out on to the perhaps less than glamorous surrounds of Shaftesbury Avenue. Yet the whole thing has that lovely timelessness that the nearby Dean Street Townhouse did so well, and the prices are surprisingly low for central London; there’s a 2 for £10 lunchtime offer and a two-course deal for £15.
The food: This isn’t Rowley Leigh on groundbreaking Kensington Place or Le Café Anglais form. (He wasn’t in evidence when we visited, although we’re assured that he’s been in regularly.) Not that it’s at all bad, for that matter. The menu plays it safe, with a range of Franco-Italia classics, although Leigh’s signature parmesan custard with anchovy toast is in evidence. Nonetheless, everything we try is excellent. Starters of crab ravioli and grilled octopus wouldn’t disgrace somewhere at twice the price, and mains of rib eye with tangy béarnaise and well-presented veal schnitzel (with egg and anchovy) are as good as anywhere round about. The disappointments come in the side dishes; the chips with the steak are soggy and bland, and a ‘creamed tomato’ dish sounds intriguing but fails to deliver.
Wines come at sensible prices and we’re pleased to see that the 500ml carafe is available – perfect to share. A Pinot Grigio is light, dry and minerally, and a Barbarossa is suitably full-bodied for the mains. We try the ‘coupe’ desserts and are pleasantly surprised – essentially an apple crumble ice cream and a concoction of coffee and chocolate, they’re well priced at £6 each and taste delightful.
Would we go again? At these prices in central London, with this atmosphere and style? Of course. Let’s just hope that Rowley ends up having a bit more of an input.
|What||Cafe Monico, Soho|
|Where||Cafe Monico, 39-45 Shaftesbury Avenue, London , W1D 6LA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Piccadilly Circus (underground)|
22 Jun 16 – 17 May 17, 9:00 AM – 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here to book your table|