Fashion Week always raises a wry smile at WineChap HQ which is directly opposite the venue for the Vauxhall Fashion Scout on Great Queen Street, the monolithic Grand Lodge Masonic building. Each year a collection of asymmetrically-haired, heavily mascara-ed skeletal 16yr olds (and some girls too) queue hopefully for their shot at catwalk glory, smoking furiously alongside grey and bemused Masons, up for a day of trouser-rolling from their second-hand Jaguar dealerships in Dagenham.
It’s easy to mock all things Fashion Week but… no it just is easy, so needless to say when invited to try Babbo’s Fashion Week Selection Menu it was more out of amusement than expectation of a decent meal that I went along to Albemarle Street, anticipating little more than an empty plate and a few lines of fair trade cocaine*. Looking at the special menu I assumed that listing the number of calories beneath each dish was to encourage guilt amongst fashiony-types about ingesting anything at all but what reprieves this slightly gimmicky promotion from further tired mirth is the quality of some of the dishes.
I remember or rather I don’t remember when Babbo opened about a year ago on the old site of Il Giardinetto – it was one of half a dozen pricey new Italians which didn’t distract me from my favourites, but I had heard good things about the food, mainly from girlfriends who don’t tend to foot or care about footing bills. I wasn’t this time and that combined with the attentive service, a quantity of wine which attracts attention and two memorably good dishes warrants the recommendation to visit this week.
Their winter salad with an impressively piquant goat’s cheese was a sufficiently generous portion to make all but the most well-balanced model feel a little queasy and was well-paired (by me) with a glass of Friulano, which lacking the sting of Sauvignon is a better complement to the bite of both the cheese and radicchio. The Parpadelle with Tuna (fresh, almost crudo, in cubes – like fishy little jellies) was just excellent with the tuna slightly infused by the capers with which they are briefly marinaded rather than sprinkled on afterwards. Come here for this one dish alone and ensure you have Anselmi’s San Vincenzo to accompany, a richly fruited and aromatic blend (effectively a Chardonnay plus charged Soave), and one of the best whites on the list.
The chicken breast cooked into submission with vegetables and spaghetti was fine and pleasantly citric (which slightly mocked Argiano’s otherwise very engaging Rosso di Montalcino), and then Branzino (sea bass) and caponata embodied the ideal of both models and good Italian cooking; striking in both simplicity and tastiness. Finally, and I know it’s early days and I don’t favour cheese at lunch or desserts at any time, but the Caprese, a sweeter but not sweet burrata, could be my dolce of the year. A couple of different dessert wines (more calorific than the rest of the meal together) and then a grappa with our grappa rounded things off and leaving Babbo with the jaunty strut of the slightly inebriated, I felt ready to hit the catwalk or at least join the wannabes outside my office.
Babbo Fashion Week Menu
Papardelle con tonno fresco e capperi £21 / Calories 385
Home made papardelle with tuna and cappers sauce
Petto di pollo con spaghetti di verdura £18 / Calories 320
Chicken breast slow cooked with vegetables spaghetti and lemon
Branzino alla griglia con caponata di verdura £26 / Calories 310
Grilled sea bass with vegetables caponata
* Babbo do not supply cocaine, fair trade or otherwise. For that you will need to visit Escobar’s, a new Columbian bistro opening in Soho next year.