Since childhood, I’ve skilfully exploited the phrase ‘less is more’. From homework to birthday presents, it’s provided the perfect all-purpose excuse. If you’ve never tried it – Valentine’s Day is coming up, what’s the worst that could happen?
La Tagliata is also pulling the ‘less is more’ trick, except without the disappointment, the broken promises, the haunting ‘I won’t forgive you’ look. They only serve two main dishes. If this sounds restrictive, ask yourself: do you really enjoy sitting there in an endless prevarication between one dish and another, like a world leader helplessly stuck at a mid-negotiation impasse? La Tagliata does the courageous thing and takes choice away. It’s an Italian restaurant, but there’s no pizza, no lasagne, no antipasti.
Three pasta dishes comprise the starters. For your main course, there’s either La Tagliata, the steak dish the restaurant is named after, or La Scamorza, oven-baked cheese with porcini mushrooms and truffle paste. Lastly there are two desserts: a perpetually wobbly panna cotta, and a deep, satisfying tiramisu.
La Tagliata might not offer very much, but each dish has been perfected. The pasta ragu primo piatti is formidably good: silken tagliatelle woven with thick chunks of beef mincemeat, all basking in the full-bodied tomato sauce of the ragu. The portions are considerable, erring more on the side of ‘main’ than ‘starter’.
Given that the owner, Carlo, has named the place after it, you’d expect the main dish – la tagliata – to be the undeniable highlight. An archipelago of beef medallions, thick as your average Penguin classic, seared near-black on the exterior and a rosy, tropical pink within, lounge upon a bed of rocket leaves. It’s served with potatoes, which can be roasted or del pastore, literally shepherd’s potatoes, a kind of mash from Carlo’s native Abruzzo.
The beef justifies its pride of place. Blushing pink and decidedly succulent, each mouthful invites gradual enjoyment. These are flavours that deserve to be drawn out, paused upon, appreciated without reservation or hurry.Confidently, the beef is served without sauce, allowing the natural flavours of the beef to bloom.
Less impressive are the potatoes. My partner had them roasted, a bowl of golden potato cubes reminiscent of patatas bravas. But the rough, chewy exterior doesn’t have that fresh crunch, and the inside is sad and doughy. I’m reminded of Thursdays at Roseacre Junior School, ‘roast dinner’ day, featuring potatoes wearing blackened jackets of scorched skin over a hard, undercooked core of stodgy potato, managing to taste both raw and overdone. But we washed those down with cartons of Five Alive, so it wasn’t all bad.
Other than owner Carlo’s headmasterly manner, the similarities between the school canteen and La Tagliata end there. My potatoes – del pastore – are very fine, providing a worthy contrasting texture to the beef with a puréed consistency.
On the subject of texture, nothing has quite as much to say as the panna cotta. The gentlest brush of the spoon sends the little dome wobbling. Softness adds to its subtle, delicate flavour; the caramel sauce drizzled over it is nothing more than a gaudy distraction. My partner’s tiramisu shows some serious depth, too – that rich, balanced graininess is successfully achieved, and the surface of chocolate is unusually thick. She looks delighted, although in the interests of disclosure I did buy her a box (100g) of Panda biscuits from the Oriental supermarket near Leicester Square earlier on.
Adherence to simplicity is admirably consistent. The dining room is clean and sharp, as sparse and focused as the menu itself. In its entirety, the effect is precise and measured: each element of La Tagliata is finely tuned and calibrated for an excellent meal. Except, as it later became apparent, my partner didn’t actually like the Panda biscuits. Maybe less is actually more after all.
11 Sandy’s Row
Tel: 020 7247 2818