****Novikov, you’ve heard of it. The posh place in Mayfair that looks and sounds intimidating. In reality, it’s not. Comprised of an Italian and a Japanese restaurant, Novikov is worth a visit not just for the food and the wine, but for the opportunity to gander at the impressive fresh market counter too, which is an explosion of colour with fruits and vegetables, and fish and lobsters still moving. Over in the Italian room the counter is equally impressive with antipasti platters, legs of ham, and piles of fresh tomatoes. It’s like Harrods’ food hall in here, and there’s no better time to visit as they’ve just updated the lunch menu to make the most of seasonal ingredients…
The Italian room is perfect for lunch. It’s light and airy with plants and greenery and though inside, feels very much like you’re sat in a courtyard in Europe. The menu is vast and you will need a good 20 minutes perusal time. In that time get the drinks flowing. A very accomplished in-house sommelier won’t struggle to find the perfect wine to for the table, however picky the crowd are what with 1600 bottles to choose from.
Choosing a starter is tough. The options are a lot broader and go a lot further than your regular tomato and mozzarella salads and Bruschetta. I opt for the warm octopus and potato salad as I know, having seen the counter, the octopus is sure to be the freshest, whilst my partner opts for a classic Italian option, burrata.
Novikov’s open kitchens menas you can see your dishes being prepared and rest easy that there’s no sneaky behaviour going on. The chefs run around the counter picking up fresh ingredients for the dishes, stressing that they aren’t just for show. My salad is stunning; light on the potato, heavier on the griddled octopus – a ratio I’m thrilled with – and with crunchy green beans, capers and tomatoes, and a dousing of fine olive oil. Ed’s burrata is fantastic, in slab form rather than a ball like I’m expect, but wonderfully creamy and silky nevertheless, with a bed of colourful cherry plum tomatoes. We let the sommelier pick our wine for us who came out trumps having picked a Sardinian white, which was sweet and floral, and to me tasted much like elderflower.
Moving on to mains, I skirted the pizza menu (a struggle for a pizzaholic like me, especially after spying a seasonal black truffle and mushroom pizza) in order to appreciate Novikov’s freshest produce. Our dishes arrive in a theatrical manner. My sea bass has been baked in a bag and arrives in a puffed-out parchment crisp packet. The waiter rips it open and spoons the sea bass fillet on to my plate, along with the roast tomatoes, wilted olives and clams that have been in there too adding flavour. It's a decent serve and tastes wonderful. The sea bass fresh, clean and meaty, and the olives have intensified in flavour through baking.
The baby lamb shoulder is even more impressive and turns heads as it arrives at the table. It's hidden in a clay mound, which the waiter carefully taps with a spoon to crack, peeling away pieces to reveal the hefty serve on the bone. It’s wonderfully succulent and strips away from the bone easily; moistened with a rich rosemary-flavoured jus.
We embrace the seasonal new menu ordering grilled asparagus on the side, which is fresh and simple, with just a drizzle of olive oil. If we wanted more carbs, roasted rosemary potatoes would have been my next choice, but instead we saved ourselves for something sweet. There are numerous desserts I could have chosen — the classic Italian tiramisu or the lemon tart with mascarpone both sound delicious — but the one that stands out is the pistachio soufflé. The waiter warns us it takes 20 minutes to bake, which we’re both thankful for — a much-needed digestive pause. It is wonderful. Puffed up over the rim of the ramekin, crisp around the edges and light and moist in the centre. It is notably pistachio flavoured (as well as green in colour) and improved with the nutty, pistachio ice cream. We ordered one to share but I later regret not ordering two, before deciding that this has inspired me to learn to bake (though it’ll be some time before I make a soufflé as well as Novikov does).
Don’t get me wrong, Novikov isn’t cheap (they have a private jet menu which suggests the clientele…) but if you’re sensible, i.e. don’t let your father-in-law order the whole suckling pig with roast apples for £342, it’s not completely extortionate ofr a special occasion. Wine starts at average London prices from £7 a glass and mains range between £19.50 and £70. If you’re watching the purse strings, order sensibly but even then, you’ll still walk away impressed.
Novikov,* 50A Berkeley Street, London W1J 8HA; 07399 4330.*