Say Buongiorno to Ritorno – Covent Garden’s Taste of Milan

07 Mar 2019

Stylish, refined and interestingly tropical, Ritorno in Covent Garden gives off a suave first impression. A stone’s throw from the West End, Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet, the location in Covent Garden is Ritorno’s second. The first is on Chelsea’s Kings Road and is an Aperitivo Bar and Kitchen offering cocktails and small plates.

Bringing the same polish but a differing dining concept, the Covent Garden spot is an Italian-style brasserie with all-day dining, offering visitors a menu filled with distinctly Italian flavours intermingled with contemporary European touches.

My guest – a Neopolitan – and I were greeted warmly and with typically Italian hospitality, shown into the 1500 sq ft space with a mirrored ceiling (great fun to take photos of yourself in), striped floors, colourfully striped seating, a long, slick bar and flamingo-themed walls.

Italian bubbles were perfectly crisp and cold, kicking off the Italian feast that was to come. ‘Everything is homemade!’ exclaimed the chef who, prior to the meal, swung by to provide us with visions of freshly floured pasta being masterfully rolled out. Quite a standard had been set.

We were lured to the Tuna Tartare starter as it appears embossed on the menu as a standout dish. What appears is fresh Bluefin tuna coated in a lime dressing and intriguingly served alongside a wonderfully smokey aubergine cream and a charred halved lime. The flavour combination of smoked aubergine and citrus-touched raw fish did ring o’ roses on the palate. Next up, the mouth-wateringly delicious and authentically Mediterranean Moscardini in Guazzetto. Served in a gilded oven dish, baby octopus sits coated in a guazzetto or a ‘stew’ sauce that consists of fresh tomato, a hint of chilli that builds, and a distinct taste of the sea. While mopping up the remainders of the stellar sauce (an action Italians call ‘scarpetta’) with pesto-topped focaccia, my guest’s smile, she tells me, is because she is reminded of being home in Italy. Can an Italian restaurant really ask for much more?

Although madly tempted by the Taglioni al Tartufo with shavings of black truffle from Norcia, we opted for the Paccheri All’Astice – paccheri artisan pasta with Scottish Blue Lobster in Datterino tomato sauce. Paccheri is oversized tubes of pasta akin to more commonly known rigatoni or macaroni. Pairing perfectly with the lobster, the al dente paccheri lapped up the sauce in its folds, while halved tomatoes offered a burst of freshness to the plate. One only could have hoped for a little more lobster.

The ‘Norma’ pizza featured a San Marzano homemade tomato base, topped with fried aubergines and Sicilian homemade salted Ricotta cheese. The pizza dough was the right level of salty, while the aubgerines offered a creaminess that offset the freshness of the tomato base and basil leaves. Fold in half and bite for ultimate indulgence. In anticipation of my next visit, my interests are piqued for the number of white base pizzas on the menu – offering toppings such as Sicilian pistachios from Bronte, ‘Rovagnati Gran Biscotto’ cooked ham and 5-months seasoned Speck from Trentino Alto Adige.

An interruption on food-talk here to briefly call out a trip to the bathroom, as I like a trip to the bathroom to be an actual trip. At Ritorno, you’ll come across a neon sign promoting debauchery stating ‘Ritorno Made Me Do It’, a photo of Sophia Loren and a hit of floral fragrance that truly is divine. Make sure you excuse yourself for a lavatory expedition here.

And finally – the dessert. While the starters and mains were glorious, the dessert at Ritorno stood out massively. The Cannolo ‘Ritorno’ was richly sweet with its organic Sicilian Sheep Ricotta cream filling, texturally contrasted with its crisp outer shell dusted with icing. The subtle crunch of the hazelnuts, along with a big mouthful of the rest, offered the perfect finishing flourish. In addition, the tiramisu was frothy and sweet but not over-sweet like many tiramisus are guilty of being – softly creamy and soaked in coffee in the middle.

Ritorno is not a trip to Italy. No, what it is is a celebration of Italy that respects its true surroundings. Contemporary flourishes and additions to the menu like tuna tartare and the Ritorno burger bring you back to London and its modern dining scene, while the decor offers a tropical yet elegant feel. The food is delicious and skillfully executed, the service friendly and animated. We’ll ritorno to Ritorno, most definitely – especially to sample the cocktails!

Ashiana Pradhan

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