A strange thing has happened each of the three times I have eaten at Manicomio. It occurs when the bill arrives. The first time I was taken aback, caught unawares as it were. The second visit I had forgotten all about it until I examined the bottom line and recalled the slight sense of horrified confusion. Last night I was expecting it, as was my dining partner who upon sitting down said: 'I love it in here. Though something very strange happens every time the bill comes'. I nodded in sympathy and ordered a couple of glasses of (excellent) Prosecco.
Indeed it does seem inexplicable as to how our bill could possibly have reached the dizzying heights of £107 last night. There were just two of us. I had pasta, she had risotto. Sure, we had some wine. And starters. But really, £107? There must be some mistake.
No, readers, no mistake.
You may now assume that I will not be heading back here again. Ah. Well here is the strange thing - the bill arrived, and whilst baffled, I really didn't care. As with the other 3 occasions (plus one more, where I didn't get to see the bill - my favourite kind of dining), I left thinking what a delightful evening I had had. This is baffling for several reasons. Let me spell them out...
1. I hate being ripped off.
2. My pasta was not at all good.
3. My companion had to send her starter back.
4. The service was poor (although the waiters were not only gorgeous, but charming in a very Italian sort of way). We had to ask for bread 3 times, for example.
So what was so great about it? Well, two of the dishes ordered were sublime. My bresaola was superb. I'm a traditional at heart and asked for it to be served with Parmesan, lemon juice and olive oil rather than the goats' cheese dressing which I just wasn't in the mood for. My requests were accepted with good grace. The bresaola was some of the best I've had - melt-in-the-mouth soft with great flavour. And my friend's asparagus risotto was outrageously good. My food envy was embarrassing as my fork hovered above her dish. This was seasonal food at its very best. The flavour was wonderful, the texture perfection. I can still taste it now. Heaven...
Her starter was good too. Eventually. The very best Mozzarella with anchovies and roasted peppers. The first attempt was dry and rubbery. The second, much better. My pasta was disappointing, but it was my own fault. I ordered badly - it was a bit doughy and involved some rather un-cooked peas, but the overall flavour of the sauce was good.
We ordered a bottle of Gavi de Gavi which was disappointingly flat. But it did not dampen our spirits as we drooled over the risotto and gazed at the dreamy waiters in their smart blue and white checked shirts. We were too full for the dolci, but these looked amazing and not particularly Italian - I am not a particular fan of Italian puddings so plus points for this. Rhubarb tart and chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream caught my eye.
Non-pasta main courses also sounded delicious and change according to the seasons. These are pretty pricey though. You have been warned.
Manicomio succeeds in combining the atmosphere of the 'local Italian' (think shared jokes with the waiters, buzzing atmosphere, fresh ingredients cooked simply) with something altogether more sophisticated and suited to the Chelsea clientele. Outdoor heaters make alfresco dining a possibility on all but the of the dreariest of May days whilst indoors is stylish without being soul-less.
So, plus points and minus points. It is not the place to go for a cheap bite to eat. I think I have made that clear. And don't even bother trying to work out how the bill came to be that high. Just enjoy it. And order that risotto....
Manicomio, 85 Duke of York Square, London SW3
Tel - 0871 0757185