GT Scene

Assaggetti, London

Restaurant review

Everyone who's visited central London more than once knows the Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus stretch is best avoided, albeit for the sight of hoards of tourists completely, inexplicably fearless of traffic. And yet, is it not sod's law you always end up there for one reason or another? Clutching your stomach in hunger and, as if navigating a land-mine, avoiding the extortionate, poor-quality eateries that populate the area in their thousands.

There are exceptions of course and Assaggetti is one of them. Its mission statement seems simple: safe, erring on the side of predictable, but mostly delicious tapas. Having opened in Haymarket last year, it enjoys a fortunate location; although disconnected from the hubbub up the road, there's still a sense of excitement in the air afforded by the handful of high-profile theatres nearby (Phantom of the Opera is literally seconds away).

Split on two floors, the basement level offers a more formal dining experience, but the high-chaired informality of the ground level overlooking the street milling with theatergoers is buzzier and better suits the restaurant's ad hoc decor. That being Spanish liveliness/cicchetti bar-chic with some eccentric touches (bread served in empty soup cans: cute or misguided?), and if it's lacking a *certain* authenticity, the chipper waiting staff make up for it.

What better way to start your meal in the searing city heat of late than with a refreshing Campari spritz followed by hefty pieces of excellent quality Tuscan ham and inventively presented goats cheese? With a few pieces of freshly baked, rosemary infused bread it'll be the perfect end to a hot day without breaking the bank, clocking in cheaper than similar cross-cultural fare served in aspirational pubs that's never quite fresh enough.

Otherwise any number of the dalla fattoria tapas selection – old favourites with a couple of curious liberties – is a safe bet for a sociable eating experience sans the grease and overtly English influences of certain chain tapas restaurants. Each is served in two sizes, with the larger twice the price of the smaller (we like such transparency) albeit the latter makes for a pretty fair potion. The king prawns were larger than you usually find at restaurants of this price range, and were perfectly complimented by some tasty sweet potato fritters (again, thankfully light on grease). The Tuscan sausage was excellent quality and pleasingly light on flavor and soft of texture; on the flipside the the potato gnocchetti and gorgonzola is indulgently rich and filling. The dishes vary in quality; none were so incredible that you'll feel compelled to go back to try them again, and yet they were all enjoyable and we finished everything.

The desserts are a let down, though, and could do with a slightly lower price considering they're extremely small and uninspired ('chocolate cake', as it says on the menu, is chocolate cake, and the one we ate has left no mark on our memory whatsoever). Another minor gripe: what's with the ridiculously small tables? Inevitably you'll end up maneuvering glasses and little dishes like a game of chess, which can be quite annoying.

Otherwise, the no-nonsense food on offer here is a winner.


71 Haymarket
020 7839 3939

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