DAPHNE’S, SW3 3AE
It’s easy to miss Daphne’s (AKA “Daffers”) on Draycott Avenue. Not because it’s dull – it takes glam to Monaco and back – but because it resembles a Mayfair jewellers from the outside, with its honey-gold awning and tangle of door staff cum bodyguards.
Owned by Richard Caring, the restaurant underwent a facelift in 2014 after being gutted by a fire, and sells itself as an Italian “local” as if it were Portofino’s answer to Admiral Codrington round the corner. The reality, however, is it’s very much a Beaux Arts venture of the Caprice Holdings mould. Fin de siècle paintings? Check. Bar lamps? Check. Vintage Murano chandelier? Check. Marble-topped tables? Dip the Colony Grill Room in Mediterranean colours and you get the idea.
The back room’s full of bright, young things having a party. The French doors, opening onto the street, might be their immaculate parents. We all dine on a menu that includes hot, crispy zucchini flowers, balancing on satisfyingly squishy orbs of mozzarella, olive oil and garlic, as well as heavenly craters of Melanzale alla Parmigiana. The mains that follow include thick swirls of calamarata pasta with lobster which, whilst punching £32 square on the nose, earn their keep, too.
Often, places like this are full of society-belles trying not to crease their make-up, or beaus broken by years of small-talk, but Daphne’s has a real family-feel. This is most likely due to Gabriele Esposito’s stewardship – everywhere and nowhere at once, his friendly airs puncture any nonsense.
PALATINO, EC1V 8AB
Named after one of the seven ancient hills of Rome (the one from which we derive the word “palace”), Palatino is the latest restaurant to come from Steve Parle (who already has the likes of Sardine Craft London, Rotorino and Dock Kitchen under his belt). Located in Clerkenwell – once known as London’s “Little Italy” – it’s a paean to Rome, or more specifically its food.
Turn left as you enter or you might end up in Fora, an office concept that combines the functions of a hotel, office and private members club. Or just follow your nose; or the noise; or your eyes, as the banquettes are the canary shade Dicky Fitz made popular.
Thankfully the food redeems the utilitarian cum bland idiom of the professional classes: industrial chic. Using British ingredients for Parle’s echt Italian dishes, diners scoff carciofi alla giuda, stracciatella and anchovy, or salt cod crudo with blood orange. But the real highlights are trattoria classics like saltimbocca alla romana, stitched together with rosemary twigs, sage, ham next to a marsala reduction.
The problem is less to do with the quality or taste than the fact Roman food is about as healthy as a deep-fried kilo of candy floss. It swims in olive oil, lies entombed in batter, or bathed in velvety sauces. The result is a riot of fun that’s only multiplied by the cocktail du jour – a Palatino Spritz – and a great selection of grappa.
LUPINS, SE1 1SG
Offering British tapas to those in SE1’s fashionable Flat Iron Square who may have been troubled by its absence, Lupins is the offspring of Medlar kicthen-stars, Lucy Pedder and Natasha Cooke. Fresh, bright and cosy in the Daylesford tradition of interior design, it’s narrow two-floor plan is a playful mix of somewhere (like Henley, perhaps) and the nowhere of urban chic.
The menu is divine, and yet doesn’t try hard. There’s no plucky nouns or oleaginous adjectives. Instead, there’s the understated pitter-patter of “Cornish crab Thermidor”, “Spiced beef short-rib” and other dainties. Everything, from courgette, chilli and ricotta croquettes to a spring onion cornmeal tempura (that resembled a tarantula) is woofed down quicker than it can be photographed.
Dish after dish, a British mainstay like spring onion, jersey royals or lamb, is transformed by a lick of chilli, a slick of za’atar or a diplomatic dripping of pomegranate molasses. Lupins insists this is just part and parcel of its “splash of sunshine” treatment, but this doesn’t begin to cover the magic act the restaurant pulls off: making the complex look simple. Each plate, full of glazes, purees, ingredients smoked or toasted, looks like something pulled out of a children’s book – but without any twee that’s surplus to requirements.
Words: Henry Hopwood-Phillips