Photo: Paul Winch-Furness
By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
First opened in 1964 by theatre agent Daphne Rye – Daphne’s in South Kensington is now owned by restaurateur Richard Caring – operating under the umbrella of Caprice Holdings. As is to be expected from a restaurant that’s owned by the same company as The Ivy, Scott’s and the recently opened Sexy Fish – there’s an air of glamour that surrounds this Italian restaurant. Representing the vibrant colour palettes generally associated with Italy, the restaurant has been refurbished following last year’s fire damage, while a pink marble-topped bar features prominently and artworks composed of warm colours manage to distract us from the torrential downpour that’s drenching just about everybody that glides past the window. What’s most impressive about Daphne’s, however, is the attention to balance, with practically every single one of the restaurant’s details. The interior is ritzy yet unpretentious, the waiting staff are refreshingly charming and able to engage in conversation unlike so many other restaurants of this ilk, and although the a la carte menu is unsurprisingly pricey – there’s a set lunch menu that boasts very good value for this area. Available between noon and six o’clock, the set menu offers two courses for £21 or three for £25 – it’s rare that even the most ludicrously unappealing of restaurants will serve three courses for less than £30, especially when in Chelsea.
The set menu also changes weekly, thus constantly inviting diners to return in order to sample yet another well-priced, indulgent lunch. During a recent visit, a selection of three seasonally-emphasised starters and mains are available, while three well-balanced desserts can provide a finale should customers wish to part ways with just 400 hard-earned pennies. Speaking from a personal point of view, having grown up in a Butcher’s household – another thing that’s impressive with Daphne’s is the fact that this is the first time in years that a restaurant has managed to satisfy me with an entirely vegetarian meal – even though I did have to taste each of my companion’s dishes, just to be sure that I’d made all of the right choices. Before we even begin, a huge platter of bread is delivered to the table, in true Italian fashion, then instantly replenished as soon as the last remaining crumb has been devoured – thus by the time that the starters have arrived we’re already feeling uncomfortably full.
A bowl of red lentil and Delica pumpkin soup is spiked with enough chilli to counteract the often blandness of pumpkin soup, unsurprisingly drizzled with a little olive oil to finish, not forgetting another slab of the kitchen’s beloved bread. Meanwhile, a bowl of plump steamed mussels are perfectly cooked and thoroughly washed – served with a vine tomato sauce that’s accompanied by bursts of flavour from beautifully complementing basil and chilli. The fish main, on the other hand, comprises a tranche of well-cooked sea bass, but the accompanying peperonata manages to completely overpower the fish’s delicate flavour, alas leaving a cloying finish. The main of porcini tortelloni, nonetheless, is comforting and well prepared. Shells of thin pasta are stuffed with chopped porcini mushrooms and topped with chestnut to provide a deeply autumnal palette of flavours.
Conclusively, pineapple carpaccio was as good as thinly sliced pineapple can be, with a generous scoop of passion fruit sorbet. The food at Daphne’s doesn’t quite personify the finest Italian food to be found in London, but the warm service and sophisticated yet homely atmosphere are the main components that will inspire this writer to return in the not-too-distant future. That alongside one of the best valued set menus to be found in this part of the city.
Daphne’s can be found at 112 Draycott Avenue, London, SW3 3AE.