As Fernando Peire pointed out in the first episode of The Restaurant Inspector, it is not only great food that results in a brilliant dining experience. It’s also about the atmosphere.
Omar Agostini, © Aliona Adrianova 2011
At Ilia in South Kensington, chef Omar Agostini and maître d’ Umberto Scompari, in a slightly Laurel and Hardy-esque fashion, have created just that.
Agostini is a talented chef who has previously worked with Alain Ducasse and Hélène Darroze. Hailing from Abruzzo, near Rome, he has created a style that Bloomberg’s Richard Vines calls “skillful, yet restrained.”
Scomparin oozes gusto and is frankly outrageously eccentric. Though some critics attack him as “opinionated,” his enthusiastic manner results in a great dining experience. On one visit, with a certain Liverpudlian friend, Scomparin’s somewhat curious Scouse impressions had us all in stitches.
Located on the site of Papillion, this duo, along with owner Soren Jessen, have tweaked the premises slightly to create a chic space that is light and airy in the daytime yet intimate and stylish at night. A rustic cabinet piled high with delicious cheeses, ham and salami dominates the room, alongside it a gleaming red enamelled Berkel slicing machine. Art deco light fittings, rich fabrics, a zinc topped bar and mirrored walls complete the effect.
With delicious sharing plates, unusually good bread, fresh fish from Italy and wholesome pastas the menu is versatile and extensive. The pappardelle with wild-boar ragu has become a firm favourite for me, but Agostini’s deliciously creamy lasagne special is also especially worth trying. Puddings such as Zuppa Inglese all’Italiana and a praline and “stravecchio” parfait conclude the meal perfectly.
The wine list, thankfully, isn’t nearly as large as that of Ilia’s predecessor. Starting at around £30 a bottle, there is plenty of choice but there could perhaps be more for those on a budget.
Ilia’s clientele reflects the style of the restaurant. Sitting there one evening were John Cleese and his new love interest. In the smaller rear dining area footballer Peter Crouch and his fiancée Abbey Clancy quietly enjoyed a meal with their daughter. Sadly we didn’t get one of his legendary robotic dances.
Whilst the Independent describe the result as being the creation of a place where “you may feel you’re dining in a club of which you’re not really a member,” the legendary Fay Maschler’s four out of five stars in the Evening Standard say all that needs to be said. Try Ilia – and make sure you meet Laurel and Hardy’s modern day counterparts.
Ilia, 96 Draycott Avenue, SW3 3AD. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7225 2555. http://www.ilia-london.com