15 Lowndes Street
Tel: 020 7235 5800
Food type: Italian
Food rating: 5/10
Nearest tube: Knightsbridge
Note: This meal was back when Andy Needham (now cooking at L’amoroso) was cooking here. He subsequently left when Zafferano lost their star.
Since its opening in 1995, Zafferano has often been touted as the best Italian restaurants in London. Headed by celebrity chef Giorgio Locatelli, Zafferano was quick to win many accolades including the prized Michelin star. The restaurant is also a bit of a celebrity haunt with stars like Madonna and Guy Ritchie amongst their patrons. While Locatelli soon moved on in 1999 and subsequently opened the eponymous Locanda Locatelli, Zafferano were kept in good hands under the steady guidance of Andrew Needham who has maintained their star since.
Andy Needham’s experience including working at the 3 Michelin star restaurant Le Pre Catalan, La Cinzianella (incidentally under Giorgio’s father) and finally as Giorgio’s second in command at Zafferano. His style of cooking is embodied by his undying passion to source the best local and foreign produce. Rumour has it that Needham has contacts from Paris, Milan and Bologna who emails him photographs of the daily produce for him to cherry pick and flown in twice a week. Talk about wanting only the best produce!
Similarly, the menu is a reflection of this with specials available based on whats best on the day. The dinner menu is divided into Starter, Pasta, Mains and Desserts, with around 6-8 options each – satisfying the needs of vegans and carnivores alike. The dinner menu weighs in at a semi-pricey £44.50 for 3 courses and £54.50 if you want to dine like an Italian and go all 4 courses. A black truffle menu (with a supplement of £15 per course) is also available with dishes created to highlight black truffle which is at the height of its season right now.
A nibble of black olives and onions on puff pastry had sweet, soft, sweated down onions with just a tiny hint of the salty black olive. The puff pastry was of good quality with a good buttery taste and feather-light texture (as Greg Wallace would put it). (5/10)
A bread basket consisted of 5 different types of bread, made in house – Foccacia, Ciabatta, White Bread with Mushrooms, Brown and Breadsticks – served with some good quality extra virgin olive oil. These were of varying quality. For example Foccacia had a light, soft texture while the white bread was rather hard and dry. The bread basket was generously refilled without asking. (4/10)
Bresaola was served on a bed of rocket with a mild and creamy goats cheese dressing. Served slightly chilled, the beef was of high quality, lightly cured with just a touch of saltiness while retaining its natural sweet, musty smell and literally melted in the mouth. The rocket added peppery notes which was calmed down by the goats cheese dressing. (5/10)
Scallops here were a hit – the scallops correctly cooked and served with a saffron vinaigrette, with some strands still visible. The honey and grassy notes of the saffron served to highlight the natural sweetness and brininess of the scallops. Baby leeks accompanying were also beautifully fresh and tender. (6/10)
It is the pasta courses where Zafferano truly shines. Gnocchi with porcini and black truffles was an instant winner with both of us. The kitchen clearly has superb mastery of pasta making evident with both pasta dishes we tried. The gnocchi for example was a textbook example of what a good gnocchi should taste like – soft, fluffy, pillows of heavenly joy. A simple, but flavoursome ragout of sauteed porcini (cep) was packed full of the earthiness of the mushrooms. Such simple preparations allowed the black truffles to truly shine. Also worth noting is that unlike the shameful two slices offered at Robuchon’s, this dish had more truffles than you could shake your fist at. (7/10)
Lobster linguine, a perennial favourite in this restaurant, reaffirmed my thoughts that the kitchen had a deft hand with pasta making. Yet again, the linguine was soft, delicate with just that little bite you get from ‘al dente’ pasta. The tender lobster chunks was interspersed with small cubes of sun-ripened the tomatoes which gave the sauce a lovely balance of sweet and sour notes, spiked with a hint of dried chilli. It is pretty worth mentioning that, during a time when restaurants are cutting down on portion sizes and trimmings, it is nice to see the pasta dish here served with a big heart of generosity. Many restaurants serving pasta con aragosta would have a token amount of lobster swamped by pasta galore. Not so here, where the ratio of lobster to pasta was in favour of the crustacean. (6/10)
Their offering of offal was a plate of veal sweetbread and kidneys served on a bed of mashed potato, artichokes, crispy pancetta and a sage jus. I was rather disappointed with this dish – the kidney and sweetbreads were a fraction too dry and would have required more gravy than what was served or on the other hand more element of ‘wetness’ on the plate. (3/10)
Gressingham duck was served as both roasted breast, cooked pink and a confit of leg. The pairings on this dish were classical with savoy cabbage, the natural partner for duck, present. A quenelle of ‘mustard fruits’ had good zing to it giving the dish an interesting twist. (6/10)
Mango parfait was pleasant with good mango flavour of the frozen treat, topped with diced cubes of sweet, honey-like mango and passion fruit. While I am aware that a parfait is after all a frozen treat, even so, it was served too cold for my liking, making cutting it with a spoon difficult without causing any noisy clunks. (4/10)
The classic Italian dessert, Tiramisu, was given a face lift while keeping all the properties that we know and have come to love about this dish. Served in a sugary biscuit tuile, the tiramisu was made with light, airy Marsala soaked sponge fingers – the punch of the alcohol balanced by the whipped mascarpone. This luscious dessert was finished off with a generous dusting of bittersweet cocoa powder. (7/10)
Coffee served is of the Illy variety with no supplements for further top-ups. Petit fours included Almond biscotti, Chocolate Madeleine’s, Hazelnut & Chocolate Jelly and a mini-jam doughnut which were pleasant, though unremarkable. (5/10)
Service was pleasant and efficient throughout. I noted that the staff dealt with some difficult situations without much fuss. In particular, a couple sat next to us wanted to send back their glass of wine they had chosen because they didn’t like it yet this was dealt with very efficiently.
It is clear that the strengths of Zafferano lies in their pasta dishes as well as the quality and freshness of vegetables. The cooking here seems to be a bit of pot luck with some very good dishes but also some mediocre ones. In particular, the desserts here seem to be an afterthought. My suggestion would be to stick to starters, pasta and mains and skip desserts.