Tel: +44 (0)20 7724 3446
Address: 13 Seymour Place, Marble Arch, London W1H 5AN
Cuisine Type: Italian
nearest tube station Marble Arch (CENTRAL)

Giuseppe Cristini and his charming girlfriend Yara Gremoli offer a real taste of Italy in a city with all too many restaurants providing the watered-down version. Since they opened less than a year ago, they have seen a steady build-up of faithful customers who return for the high quality of the cooking and the friendly welcome in this tiny, simple establishment.

A glass of Prosecco and a choice of wonderful homemade breads help you to choose from a short and imaginative menu, with daily specials described by Yara. Antipasti (£4-£7) included Coscetta d’Anatra Croccante – a meltingly tender leg of duck served with caramelised onions, and a salad of baby leaves that was so far from a mere garnish that it would have made a starter in its own right.

Pasta is the speciality of Giuseppe himself. As we walked into the restaurant the wonderful scent of wild mushrooms was in the air so it was no surprise to find that the pasta special that night was maltagliati con funghi porcini – a treat. Gnocchi al Gorgonzola (£7.50) were tempting but not when you hope to eat more than one course… I may have to return to tryPizzoccheri alla Valtellinese (£6.50), buckwheat flour pasta with diced potatoes, white cabbage and Fontina cheese. This sort of dish reminds me of one of my favourite Roman restaurants, Ditirambo, which also combines modern Italian cooking with some of the most interesting traditional recipes from the regions.

Fegato di Vitello (calves liver, £12.50) was perfect: pink and tender and served with fabulous garlic mashed potato and lashings of good rocket. Pan-fried duck breast (£15.50) was also excellent, accompanied by baby spinach, artichokes and balsamic vinegar. Fish includes cod with roast fennel, red onions and pesto and sea bream fillets with sautéed courgettes, peppers and sun-dried tomato.

Traditional puddings (£4.50) come with a twist. Zabaglione here is served cold as a rich mousse over fresh fruit; Panna Cotta comes with a fresh strawberry sauce. Home-madeCantucci are superb and come with a very upmarket Vinsanto.

There is an interesting wine list and Yara will be happy to tell you about some of the more unusual wines on the list. On her recommendation we tried a Mandrarossa from Sicily (£14.50) – a good choice. The wine list is very helpful in listing all the grape varieties: I wish more would do so. House wine is good value at £10.50. Yara also introduced us to a delicious pudding wine from Piemonte, Brachetto. Red, slightly frizzante and only 6.5%, this is a real delight.

But then so is the whole experience of Cristini. Prices are not bad for central London (though I’m not sure about adding £2 for pasta served as a main course – my only quibble) and in terms of quality and ambience, this is real value for money.

– Helen Wright, 1/2003