Can a maître d’ really make or break a meal? After my visit to Il Convivio, I’m a firm believer that excellent service should be at the forefront of every restaurant’s agenda. Our jolly Italian maître d’ from Sardinia was so amiable, accommodating and passionate about his job and the restaurant, that we could have been dining on ready-meals from a supermarket and the meal would still have been enjoyable (luckily the food was all fresh and handmade, which of course was a bonus).
Il Convivio is one of those restaurants where service and atmosphere matter as much as the food. That doesn’t mean that the food isn’t at the epicentre of the restaurant’s thinking, it just means that there are far too many other distracting elements to keep you from picking the food apart. And that’s a good thing.
Jonesy and I sat (in my opinion) at the top table of the house, overlooking the spotless streets of Belgravia. Il Convivio is a narrow space and from the outside it looks terribly small. Once inside, however, you realise there’s a whole section to the back that’s hidden away from scrutinising eyes on the street. Celebrities take note. There are no bad tables to watch out for, although the window seats are for obvious reasons the most desirable (at least to us mortals who want to be seen by scrutinising eyes on the street). The interior is warm and welcoming and the big wooden chairs are comfortable enough to host a marathon meal, should you be so inclined to go through the entire menu.
For a Monday night the restaurant was very busy and Jonesy and I had plenty of time to play dining-neighbour spy. Judging by the area and the clientele, we came to the conclusion that Il Convivio is somewhat of a local gaff, although the five septuagenarians sat next to us seemed very unlikely to use the word gaff, nor the young couple to our right.
Il Convivio doesn’t specialise in a specific Italian region, rather it embraces the whole Italian national spirit without being too traditional. Fresh, seasonal ingredients are essential here and the menu goes through the Italian register with soups and salads for antipasti, handmade pastas with tempting accompaniments and the ever so common fillet of wild sea bass to finish off with.
We debated for quite a while what to order, which is usually a good sign as it means there are more good options on the menu than bad ones. Before our starters reached the table we had already gobbled down deliciously soft granary bread with a fantastic olive oil from Sicily.
Then in came Jonesy’s black spaghetti with lobster and spring onion, which of course made me develop food envy within seconds. The pasta was perfectly al dente and received the thumbs up. My fresh salmon marinated in pink grapefruit was fresh and light; neither an ‘ooh’ or ‘eww’ remark could describe it. It was good.
Never a person to crave steak, I chose the halibut for mains and this sturdy fish came decorated with a Noilly Prat sauce, toasted pistachios and vegetables. The chef, surprisingly an English chap, had overdosed slightly with the pepper grinder, but the rest was a pleasant taste journey. Jonesy’s wild sea bass with potato crust and asparagus sauce was also a fine choice.
After finishing such a fish feast, I felt light as a feather and didn’t want to spoil this refreshing feeling with a heavy dessert (although the peach tartlet with frangipane and ice cream is a must for next time), so I opted for the mango and papaya salad. Sadly, the papaya didn’t have that perfect ripe taste that can sometimes wow your senses, but the mango and mint combination was a fruity hit. Jonesy went through the white and dark chocolate mousse with whisky crème Anglaise with a smile, but that might have been from the delicious red wine that slowly hit us; an excellent choice, courtesy of Mr. Sardinia of course.
Il Convivio is one of those unassuming restaurants you tend to forget, which is quite unfair as you know that once you make a reservation, a great meal will be had and wonderful service will be showered upon you. Buon appetito!