Andy Mossack mixes with the Mayfair set at celebrity restaurant Novikov.
Thursday evening and I’m sipping a mint and lime infused coco loco cocktail down in Novikov Restaurant & Bar’s famed Lounge Bar. The lighting is suitably bijou dim, and I can just make out my tableside nibbles. The DJ sounds are on-trend, loud enough to create a vibe and low enough not to disturb any critical chatter.
“I’ll come and find you when your table’s ready” whispered the Covid-masked hostess as she left me in the hands of the Lounge Bar team where I was gently guided to a velvety corner banquette.
Novikov is what you might call in Mayfair, the perfect place to see and be seen and judging from the look of my lounge neighbours, they all seem to be early evening regulars. I sense, come late evening, the crowd will change considerably. Arkady Novikov’s first restaurant outside of Russia, where almost single-handedly he changed the face of Moscow and St. Petersburg dining by opening fifty restaurants, has certainly made his mark in London. Not bad for a man who was once the chef at Moscow’s Hard Rock Café.
Just as I take a last sip of my cocktail, my whispering hostess is back as promised, and we make our way upstairs to the restaurant. Novikov is unusual as it is made up of two distinctly different dining areas, an Italian restaurant, and an Asian restaurant. The only things both have in common are spectacular arrays of freshly harvested produce displayed from one end of the open-plan kitchens to the other, supplied directly from Novikov’s own 2-acre Victorian walled garden at Brent Eleigh Hall in Suffolk.
I’m booked into the Italian restaurant tonight and as we reach the top of the stairs I see the Pan-Asian dining room, positioned right by the Berkeley Street entrance, is already packed to the gills. Nothing subdued here as entire families enjoy a typically casual weeknight out in their local eatery in Mayfair.
The Italian room at the back, however, seems an entirely different proposition. A beautifully elegant airy space with huge chandeliers designed to resemble gothic candles, wood-framed mirrors, velvety walls and a proper wood-fired oven, whose logs lie stacked in their own cubbyholes above it. Potted indoor trees abound, and pots of fresh basil and sage adorn each table. Simple but beautifully effective.
My table is perfect. Tucked away against a corner wall, I can people-watch across the entire restaurant. Saying that perhaps it will be the other way around, as my table usually seats six and I’m dining alone. In a restaurant where table bookings are hard to come by, perhaps I’m the subject of other diners’ speculation. Mind you, some might say I have the look of a Bond villain about me, so you never know.
A surprisingly expansive menu designed by executive chef Marco Torri leaves almost no regional Italian dish overlooked. The whole left side of the menu is devoted to starters, from salads, carpaccio, and tartare, to salami, mixed appetisers, and pasta. The right side to sharing plates, chef specials, fish, Josper and wood-fired oven meats. It is, however, aimed at diners with deep pockets. Two eye-wateringly expensive starters stand out: king crab with avocado and Sicilian tomatoes £54 and yellow-fin tuna tartare with golden Oscietra caviar £42.
After much deliberation and intense discussion with my patient waiter, I take his suggestion of a three-year-old Spanish Belotta acorn-fed ham, the finest you can get, served with a tomato bruschetta (£26). “Don’t you find it strange to serve a Spanish dish in an Italian restaurant?” I ask him. “It’s better than the Parma ham sir. Quality always overrides country.” No argument from me on that score.
The mains are another culinary journey around the Mediterranean and again plenty of opportunities to raise eyebrows. A couple of front runners are a whole Dover sole meuniere with capers and lemon or just simply grilled (£58) or slow-cooked Segovian suckling pig with baked apple (£59). Grilled native lobster at the market price is also available and quite popular around the room from the looks of it.
After more lengthy discussions, and because I adore Josper-grilled meat, I decide on beef fillet tagliata with rocket, parmesan, and Worcester dressing (£54) and a side of rosemary-infused roast potatoes (£8)
My starter arrives triumphantly on a fancy wooden board, a very generous portion of belotta ham which certainly matches the billing. The just-picked basil glistening in olive oil capping the sweet chunks of Sicilian tomatoes. It is a very impressive start to the proceedings.
In a comfortable pause between courses, I look up to see the room full, making me ever more grateful for my spacious table. There’s a curious mix of fellow diners; pre-clubbers with eyes glued to phones, alternately sipping cocktails and downing forkfuls of lobster, and leisurely diners of a certain age intent on enjoying a culinary night out perhaps from The Ritz just across the road or the May Fair Hotel a stone’s throw the other way.
The arrival of my tagliata tears my attention away from the human tableaux unfolding around me. A belter of a dish that’s cooked to perfection. Seven glorious slices of Josper- seared fillet sitting on a bed of rocket and topped with a slice of fresh parmigiana. “Tagliata pink but not red as requested Mr Mossack” informs my dependable waiter who also manages to make a glass of chianti appear from nowhere.
Being really picky, the five small slices of roast potato are very mean considering they cost £8, but hey, I am far too seduced by my fabulous tagliata to bring it up.
As an army of waiters descends on my table to clear away my plates, I feel I’ve attracted some attention from nearby diners, clearly intrigued by my lack of dining companions and my generous table. If only I had a white cat to stroke my character would be complete.
In a final burst of decadency, I order a basil panna cotta and peaches with a balsamic dressing (£11). The test of a good panna cotta as everyone knows is how it wobbles and mine passes with flying colours. It is a fitting finale, the creamy pudding with its hint of basil surrounded by luscious peaches and that balsamic tartness. Worthy of an encore I would say.
As I make my way out, the Asian room is still going strong and there’s a long line of late-nighters waiting to be allowed into Arkady’s hallowed Lounge Bar by the members of Novikov’s security. As I approach, they part for me like the Red Sea. It is clearly going to be another late one for Mayfair’s night-time crowd.
All images (c) Andy Mossack except featured image and Lounge Bar.
Tell me more about Novikov Restaurant and Bar
Novikov Restaurant and Bar, 50A Berkeley St, London W1J 8HA
T: 00 44 (0) 207399 4330 E:firstname.lastname@example.org
Italian Restaurant opening times: 12pm – 10pm daily