Don't expect the restaurant to have a vibe before 1pm, it's a little too early for that, but our midday table does allow us to watch the restaurant fill over the course of the service and two things become apparent. First, there's a substantial cohort of regulars here who receive almost familial greetings, many who no doubt work for one of the many hedge funds to the left, right and above of C London. But second, the non regulars, the unknowns, people like us actually, are received with equal enthusiasm. Throughout our meal (and it's not just our table), we're doted over, not just by our waiter, but all the various and numerous staff who really do offer up the best of Italian hospitality. It's friendly, it's warm, it makes you feel warm, and as such, it puts a smile on your face. It's a massive win on service and you could easily believe that Italians do do it better.
The menu can be considered a touch odd, there's classics on the left page mixing up all categories to catch out the unwary or cause you to miss your favourite dish if you immediately jump to the more usual pastas and mains on the right hand page. We ask if the usual anti-primi-secondi running order is appropriate. We're told it is (the pasta dishes do not have the usual double pricing next to them). We soon discover that the 'usual running order' is appropriate only if you have the appetite of Pavarotti at his most voracious. Portions are huge and both the pasta course and main course see almost half returned to the kitchen, not because we don't like it, we love it, but my risotto could feed three people.
This does give rise to mixed feelings. One has to take the prices on the chin and it's not the place to argue that 'if portions were smaller they could charge less', it's Mayfair after all, but... this was a scampi and pea risotto, and while it was a beautiful risotto, it would have greatly benefited from a greater density of scampi. The same amount of scampi contained therein but with a smaller amount of actual risotto does the trick rather efficiently. Ahead of the pasta however, it is for me Bresaola, and here, rather magnificently, the Parmesan comes on its own side plate in sheets almost larger than the plate itself. It's a delightful presentation and highlights that you are getting rewarded for your mortgage style outlay, and yet, despite the Bresaola being so very good, by the end, you're ready to trade in for a new taste.
These can either be major or minor quibbles, it depends on how you feel about the place, but if the service wins you over, as it did us, you likely end up saying, if we come back, we'll know to share a pasta course next time. Mains were very good indeed, chicken with sweet peppers was an impressive outing for a humble chicken with skin fantastically crisped, seasoned and utterly moreish and the meat, equally packed with flavour falling off the bones. Almost a revelation. The veal Milanese was an equally impressive and plate filing main yet sadly, both dishes saw too much returned to the kitchen with a pang of guilt (it's not the type of place where you ask for a doggy bag).
For the blog of course, we said we'd consider a dessert, what did they have? There's no menu, instead, two waiters whirl through the restaurant, slaloming between tables, whole cakes in hand to present the very desserts right there to you, it's proper theatre. There's lemon meringue, chocolate cake, berry pie and vanilla meringue sponge. The waiters are as enthusiastic about the desserts as they were energetic in bringing them to you, it's a beautiful sale, the result being a shared piece of the vanilla meringue sponge (wise by the end at least).
This is all lovely food to eat with a generous side of charming service, the unchanging menu perfected over decades. We don't remember ever enjoying the old Cipriani this much before, but hey, maybe they have raised their game, nowhere can be complacent right? On a return visit, we'd order quite differently, more shared dishes for a start. In the context that dishes can be shared, even the bill itself would be a little more palatable. We leave the restaurant happier, heavier, lighter of wallet, but glad we took time out to rediscover somewhere we thought we already knew.