Although of British descent, Theo Randall is a name that’s become synonymous with Italian food. Tracing back to family holiday road-trips through rural Italy, garnering plenty of food and wine along the way, Theo then spent a total of 17 years working at The River Café in Hammersmith – 10 of which were spent as Head Chef. It was here that he achieved his first Michelin star. In 2006, however, the chef decided to open his first solo venture, an eponymous space within the Park Lane InterContinental Hotel, unsurprisingly specialising in Italian. Now, following the publication of his second cookbook ‘Theo’s Simple Italian’, the chef has opened another restaurant, this time taking over a space on the ground floor of the Hotel Indigo London Kensington.
Inside, the relatively large dining space is fairly characteristic of a hotel lobby restaurant, bedecked with its hues of green leather and light parquet flooring. As for the food, the focus is, again unsurprisingly, placed upon (mostly) Italian dishes served with rustic simplicity. First, a board of severely crisp polenta fries was plonked onto the table, topped with a smattering of anchovy to add a depth of taste. My friend’s starter of black Angus beef (£10.50) had been sliced into thin slivers and previously marinated, instead of being cooked, with the cure lending a slightly sour outer to the meat. This worked particularly well with the overlying rocket leaves dusted with parmesan and dressed with lashings of aged balsamic vinegar – offering the exact balance of simplicity and impressiveness that the restaurant’s name would suggest. On the other hand, my dish of burrata (£10) – milky Italian cheese with tomatoes and basil – was a superb example of one of those very few dishes that requires just as much focus on provenance as actual cooking skill.
In terms of quality, it would be unfair to expect a level identical to that at Theo Randall at the InterContinental, or indeed Randall’s work at The River Café; yet with the chef’s name above the door, there are certain expectations that should be met regardless. Amongst other things, Theo Randall at The InterContinental is renowned for its pasta. Whilst the slow-cooked ragout of oxtail (£17) with copious amounts of wine to compliment the oxtail’s natural depth of flavour, as well as a shaving of chocolate to counter the richness – the outrageously delicious ragout was let down by the pappardelle. Thick ribbons of – what should have been delicious – pasta were overcooked, claggy and generally underwhelming. Alas, had the pappardelle been cooked properly, the overall dish would have been an absolute delight. On the other hand, my friend’s sirloin steak (£30), although not particularly Italian, had been cooked to perfection – which is indeed becoming surprisingly difficult to find in so many restaurants. To finish, a vanilla sponge cake (£6) was free from both gluten, and of flavour, and was phenomenally dense. Fortunately, my friend’s tiramisu (£6) was apparently magnificent, so good that I wasn’t given the chance to taste for myself.
The overall dining experience at Theo’s Simple Italian does offer moments of greatness, alas these instances are often blemished by inconsistency. Stylised as a casual restaurant, the space does deliver exactly what the name suggests, yet it is difficult to overlook the pricing level that’s so similar to the massively acclaimed Theo Randall at The InterContinental, having been treated to a refurbishment and new menu to celebrate its tenth anniversary.
Theo’s Simple Italian can be found at 34-44 Barkston Gardens, London, SW5 0EW.