How much can you cram into one day out in London? Quite a lot, we discovered through a rather optimistic lack of planning. So after brunch (review to come!) a visit to the From Selfie to Self-Expression exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, a rather challenging film (Una) at the Mayfair Curzon, and a fair bit of hiking around town, we were more than ready for a relaxing dinner. We hadn’t booked ahead, but we did do some on-the-go online research and chose Cafe Monico, on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue. We lucked out.
This is a brasserie with some history – 140 years of it in fact. The original Cafe Monico was opened by Giacomo and Battista Monico. While the majority of their neighbours were demolished in 1885 to make way for the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue, the brothers expanded their premises and thrived for another generation before succumbing to the expansion of Piccadilly Circus in the 1950s. Today Soho House, in collaboration with chef Rowley Leigh, has created today’s Cafe Monico right around the corner, complete with vintage décor.
The dining area is upstairs and overlooks a bustling central bar. Despite being fully booked, we had plenty of space and could chat easily whilst still enjoying the jazz swirling around us. The staff here are fabulous, and have achieved the perfect balance between making sure that you’re well served and leaving you in peace. So, to the menu. As well as the A La Carte, Cafe Monico have ingeniously packaged up some options into a three tiered price range for two or three courses. A. went for the most expensive (of course!) Premier selection and had calamari fritti with aioli to start, whilst I opted for the more modest Monico and the tomato and mozzarella. Both were delicious. The calamari melted in the mouth, whilst the mozzarella had bite and vigour.
For mains, A. had the sea bass with pickled fennel whilst I had a simple bavette with frites. It’s rare that I have steak as I find too much meat rather off-putting, but this was small and done perfectly to my liking (medium, which the chef probably disliked but I loved). On to pudding, and a chocolate bombe for A. and Paris Brest pour moi. Heaven! I loved the lightness of the Paris Brest pastry, filled with delicate cream. A. said that he could have shared the bombe, but I noticed he left nothing on his plate!
With the excuse that this was a special occasion (isn’t it always?) we went on to order digestifs. Naughty, but oh so nice. A real treat of an evening.
We had a fabulous time, and this gem of a place is on our return visit list, so yes we would recommend it in every way. We had quite a pricey evening with a bill of c£110 between two, but we added a reasonable bottle of wine, digestifs and coffee. With a budget in mind, you could easily have a lovely meal and spend a lot less.
Loo Review (PMC Rating): ★★★★☆ Nicely designed and in keeping with the bistro vibe.
Cafe Monico, 39-45 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 6LA Friday, 1st September 2017