Tel: +44 (0)20 7637 9900
Address: 16 Percy Street, London W1T 1DT
Cuisine Type: Italian
nearest tube station Tottenham Court Road (CENTRAL, NORTHERN), Goodge Street (NORTHERN)

Italian eating in London just gets better and better. Manager Sergio Noci has created a relaxed, airy atmosphere at Paolo. Pale wood floors, mirrors and minimalist decoration are the backdrop for simple but innovative modern Italian cooking from chef Maurizio Morelli, using fresh seasonal ingredients. Service is superb: the young, efficient staff are totally unobtrusive but seem to have the knack of anticipating your every need.

There are some spectacular treats among the Antipasti (£6 – £8). Carpaccio of wild sea bass with blood oranges was reminiscent of one of the best dishes I ever had in Rome, where the raw fish had been marinated in nothing but citrus juices. Even better was the Scallopa di fegato grasso – pan-fried foie gras – with spinach and balsamic vinegar. A generous portion of foie gras literally melted in the mouth: this is cooking raised to a fine art.

Pasta is all fresh, and priced as either a starter or a main course (£7 – £10). The signature dish of the restaurant is the selection of fish ravioli – four different fish fillings, colour coded so that you can taste them in order of strength. We tried the Tortelli di Coniglio (rabbit) with rosemary and asparagus: delicate and delicious with a broth that was a masterpiece of understatement.

There is a choice of four fish and four meat dishes for the main course, at £13 – £15. Petto d’Anatra al Limoncello was the only disappointment of the meal, there being rather a lot of slightly tough, pink duck and no Limoncello flavour to speak of. Animelle di Vitello(sweetbreads) on the other hand were very good indeed, with a coating of pecorino cheese and served with tiny artichokes and baby roast potatoes.

Dolci at £5.50 are also very good and show genuine creativity, as in the Mascarpone mousse with Limoncello Baba and hazelnut sauce. The warm chocolate and almond tart with Amaretto sauce was, quite simply, perfection. It was more of a cake than a tart, moist and yet light, and I would love the recipe. There is also a judicious selection of Italian cheeses on offer.

The wine list is also carefully chosen. The glass of Prosecco offered as you browse the menu sets the scene for a range of well-described Italian classics ranging from house wine at a very reasonable £11.50 to £105 for Brunello di Montalcino 1995. If you want to push the boat out there is good value here. There are also pudding wines – the Passito di Pantelleria was pleasant but not a patch on the one I had in Venice recently – and a selection of grappe.

Paolo is a restaurant that would work equally well for a business lunch, an evening with friends (there were at least two parties of Italians the night we were there – always a good sign) or an intimate dinner, especially as the light from the huge square skylight fades and the unobtrusive lighting is dimmed. It would seem expensive in Italy, but in London it’s thoroughly good value.

– Helen Wright, 5/2003

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