Pity the gilded restaurants of Mayfair, if you can: they are dying. Some have reopened; they ache on like men with no legs but a glut of polenta. Occasionally, a brave one will open for customers who simply do not exist and so hangs about like a character in a Vladimir Nabokov novel: interesting but superfluous.
Where are the rich? In Tuscany? On MS The World, the floating block of luxe flats? In the vault? Because they are nowhere to be seen: they are like plushly appointed Borrowers. A journalist wrote his report of the reopening of the Savoy Hotel in the Strand last month. They had six guests in a hotel reconfigured — for social distancing — for 100. Even so, Richard Caring opened his (unconsciously) Weimar Republic-themed bistro 34 with a mad political flourish: there were two Boris Johnson mannequins dangling on zipwires. What can it mean? Does Caring wish to lynch Johnson, or just to remind us of when he lynched himself?
If you believe in food as artistry — and you must, or you are a savage — this is a shame, though I think they will recover; meantime I marvel at the quality of the silence at the brand new Giannino Mayfair, named to distinguish it from Giannino Dal 1899, its famous mother restaurant, founded by Giannino Bindi, a Tuscan exile who served beans to coachmen in the suburbs of Milan. One day, a legend says — the best restaurants have creation myths — an aristocrat dined with his coachman, as if in a film, and loved it: so, the restaurant moved to the centre of the city, and Ava Gardner dined there.
In usual times Giannino Mayfair would be busy with those who can afford it: the service is gracious, and the food is without fault. But they are, for now, absent. The day I go we are the only diners besides the owner and his friends. He sits radiating a sort of phlegmatic irony. I like him for that.
It is on Blenheim Street: the exterior is black and gold, with a velvet rope for no one in particular. Inside it is grey and brown: a restaurant for men, then, for all Italian restaurants for men are grey and brown, to match their clothing. (Savini at Criterion, now permanently closed, which is disappointing because Batman dined there in The Dark Knight; Sartoria in Savile Row, still clinging to the respirator.) The carpets are grey, the walls are brown and gold, the lighting is art deco. Golden discs hang from the ceiling and there is, for some reason, a minute statue of a pineapple in gold. But that is what rich people seek: things no sensible person would consider. There is an oil painting of a man with fantastical white moustaches and an inky, double-breasted coat: Giannino Bindi I presume. Would he too be calm in pandemic, with his clientele in vaults? I think he would.
We eat the best food Italy can offer (my only complaint is invented — it is too soothing to invoke the Italy I seek, which is more dramatic): spaghetti aglio e olio and tagliatelle with goose ragù; a marvellous Milanese risotto with bone marrow sauce; a lamb shoulder with ceps and potato with thyme; a veal cutlet Milanese; and, of course, a tiramisu. It is, if you like this kind of thing — it is highly stylised and, the cutlet aside, small — quite perfect.
I go home to the enraging news that the Nordic café Snaps + Rye of Golborne Road W10, which I recently reviewed in these pages, is closing permanently. So that is that; so many endings. When this is over, we will have Subway and we will have Giannino Mayfair, and its bill for three of £243.
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Giannino Mayfair, 10 Blenheim Street, London W1S 1LJ, tel: 020 8138 1196.
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