So, err, we have Putin, a quasi dictator whose political opponents all conveniently get assassinated or imprisoned and supporter of the Syrian regime, Clinton, one of only two Presidents of the United States to undergo impeachment proceedings on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, and Naomi Campbell, supermodel brat accused ten times between 1998 and 2008 of committing acts of violence against employees and others, and more recently accused in a war crimes trial of receiving Liberian blood diamonds. The ambassadorial roll call for Novikov it seems is unimpeachable, oops, poor choice of words.
Meanwhile the website also reports that Novikov's global expansion reflects the fact that he has 'conquered his homeland', a Putin-esque slant of an expression with sinister undertones. It is also worth noting too that Putin is not perhaps simply a customer but is also reported by some as being a co-investor in Novikov's projects. I wonder then if Novikov's domestic conquering is more of a reflection of the benefits of political patronage.
I'm guessing too that Pussy Riot's greatest hits are unlikely to be piped into the dining area but I'm also now fearing that the kitchen stocks a state sponsored/diplomatic bag smuggled supply of Polonium-210 to liberally dose the food of antagonistic bloggers and dissidents alike. Is this an acute radiation syndrome goodbye from the critical couple? Only time and a geiger counter will tell.
I'm surprised when I enter however for there are no bouncers (whose presence I have read in other reports). A short walk takes you to the Italian basement restaurant where all the staff are in fact Italian and who are really quite congenial. It's buongiorno here and buongiorno there; bene. And I guess being Sunday lunch, it is a different clientèle too, I see families having lunch rather than older men with younger women (no doubt their nieces) though I am guessing the place can be very different on a Friday night.
The room itself is an odd one, a windowless basement but cleverly fitted with a false ceiling of white wood beams through which the room is pumped with artificial sunlight to give the place a lighter feel than it really has claim to. Apparently, the light setting can be varied to simulate all conditions such as sunset. With pots of basil and thyme on unoccupied tables, fruit and veg lining the counter, several ceiling high potted trees and a wood burning oven, this gigantic room feels like a cross between a pizzeria, a grocer's store and a garden centre conservatory. It's not uncomfortable, but it does feel quite artificial.
Time to order and try not to go bankrupt in the process. For the 'Primi piatti' there was something that sounded intriguing, possibly a car crash, Parmesan risotto with grouse and Marsala wine ragout, I thought I'd give it a go for a bit of fun but when I went to order it, the face of my waitress told a story and it didn't have a happy ending. So I asked, 'is this dish good?'. 'No' she said. I admired her brutal honesty and rapidly changed my order.
For antipasti, with everything seemingly £18 apart from the most basic green salad, I considered that deep fried prawns with tartar sauce probably offered the best value and, hand up, I have to admit that they were very nice, though a little messy. But again, to the credit the service staff, I had no sooner finished the plate when a hot towel was delivered to the table for me to clean up. Actually, the prawns were very nice, the sauce was more like an inconsequential lemon butter sauce and you were better off just squeezing the lemon slice over them but that didn't really matter. And while expensive (because all things here are), at least it was plentiful with seven prawns served.
When I left half the plate, my waiter asked 'you don't like the porchetta?' I explained that it was very nice but after 15 repetitious mouthfuls of dry pork, eating another 15 mouthfuls of the same had lost its appeal. He acknowledged my words and cleared the plate. Maybe it's me but when I order a pork main, I just don't assume that all I will get is simply that, a plate of sliced pork. It seems faintly ridiculous.
During my visit, I didn't see the inclusive group that embraces all people from Bill Clinton to Naomi Campbell. I didn't even see anyone that looked like they might be famous, or even looked like a person that a famous person would actually talk to, just families and friends having Sunday lunch, and in that sense, the restaurant seemed a lot less nauseating than the website makes out.
The restaurant however does feel like an underdeveloped fantasy Italy, and if you told me its design was agreed in a boardroom conference in Moscow by suited money men who have never been to Italy, I simply wouldn't be surprised. Only when it comes to the prices would surprise kick in, surprise that there's enough people willing and able to pay up to eat here, to fill it time and again and not feel at least a little cheated by the cost (or that there's something better to be had elsewhere).
I went there because I was intrigued what the first London restaurant of Russia's most successful conquering restaurateur would look like, but with that curiosity now sated, I am happy never to return.
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