You know a restaurant is doing things right when the decor and design matches the food. For a windowless room, Theo Randall at the InterContinental is remarkably bright and airy while the immediate feel is that people are just having fun. You can’t ask for much more than that.
As to the man behind it, Randall was not a name that rang any bells until I looked at his pedigree. He was instrumental in making the River Café still one of London’s best, training a young Jamie Oliver in the process.
It’s renown lies largely in impeccable ingredients and perfect pastas, served in the most beguiling of Thames-side settings. While the latter is impossible to replicate, the former is evident in spades at a simple but excellent dinner on Park Lane.
The dinner menu offers a bargain six course dinner for £70, or an à la carte option. While we decide, some lovely zucchini chips, focaccia and bruschetta.
To start, a reminder of what tomatoes can – and should – taste like. A beautiful selection of raw sliced camone, merinda and datterini tomatoes with chicory, aged balsamic, Caprino Fresco (a goat’s milk cheese) and torn bread or pangrattato (£13) In common with the best Italian cooking, there’s no artifice or pretence, no unnecessary smears, towers or foams. Just excellent and perfectly-sourced produce, handled with care.
Next a simple but sensational bowl of pasta, with prosciutto, Parmesan, mint, lemon and peas all vying to take the lead over a masterclass in pasta making. It’s a dish that again reminds how uncomplicated great Italian cooking should be. The saltiness of the ham and cheese contrasts with the summer snap of the peas, while the golden yellow ribbons of taglierini are a sight to behold. (£15)
On entering the restaurant you’re greeted by a large bowl of Sicilian lemons, the knobbly beauties which put any others in the family to shame. It’s no surprise then to learn that Randall is renowned for his lemon tart. It’s an absolute beauty: none of the over-sweetness or sharpness that affects many, just a virtual stroll in the Sicilian sunshine. Even the eggs used are Italian too. As Diana Henry so succinctly put it when she shared Randall’s recipe: “Discard all other recipes. This is the only lemon tart you should ever cook.”
Service throughout is warm, friendly and knowledgable, from a team clearly proud to work in what seems a pretty relaxed environment, especially so given their Michelin star. Somehow, given the lightness and feel of the cooking and venue, I don’t see Randall as much of a kitchen screamer. With food this good, it’s probably all smiles out back.