Gucci, Pucci, Fiorucci
When I was a child, ‘È pericoloso spogersi’ was my first introduction to Italian. This sentence which, back then, you could find on every European train window, and which, in effect, means ‘Leaning out of the window is dangerous’, in English was so prosaically expressed as ‘Do not lean out of the window’. There you have it right away, all the style, the drama, the passion of Italy and all the implications of the dangers of leaning out too far. There’s something of it in Sophia Loren’s hips, in the chocolatey froth on a cappuccino and in the roar of a Bugatti engine. Now say ‘Villa di Geggiano’. Doesn’t it just roll off the tongue like warm melting caramel from a wooden spoon? It conjures up sun drenched vineyards, Italian architecture and La Dolce Vita.
And there, on little old Chiswick High Road directly transposed from Tuscany, sits this thoroughly Italian villa. Incongruous in its environment, it beckons you in with its bright green shutters and its pergola covered courtyard. This is not just an Italian restaurant of the sort we are all familiar with, step in here and you’re actually stepping into Italy. The moment I walk in, I have the sense of being on holiday. The temperature seems warmer, I feel more relaxed and London drops away completely.
Rumour has it, that the mother house, Villa di Geggiano near Siena, a wine growing estate established by the Bianchi Bandinelli family in 1527, was the first to export the famous Chianti wines of the region to England in 1725. It is still managed by the same family and these days offers wine, food and guest houses to rent on their vast estate www.villadigeggiano.com/home/. Here in Chiswick, its London restaurant has offered Tuscan food and wine since 2014.
Inside, it is a very appealing combination of traditional and contemporary Italian style. There’s a bar/lounge area with comfortable sofas and chairs overlooking an impressive marble fireplace, eclectic leather stags’ heads in blues and greens in the main dining area, interesting tree installations, a long stainless steel topped bar and a narrow oblong window into the kitchen from which you can watch the chefs at work. On either side of the restaurant are the smart private rooms, seating up to 16 and 22 people respectively. Villa di Geggiano’s 500 year pedigree is apparent from the distinctive coat of arms, displayed on everything from door mats and courtyard blankets to plates and glasses. I’m immediately struck by the good vibe here and the sense that this an ideal place for fun, relaxed gatherings of friends and family, the sort you see on TV pasta sauce adverts, convivial, warm hearted and full of smiles and laughter. So very Italian!
The menu is short. It showcases typical Tuscan cuisine, right down to Pasta with Wild Boar, it’s all there.
The Lovely Husband and I order a shared starter of Tartare di Salmone con Centriolo e Gazpacho or, for the uninitiated, Salmon Tartare with Cucumber, Chives and Gazpacho, and, of course, delicious bread, which here you have to pay extra for. When the salmon tartare arrives on its slate square with the gazpacho in a shot glass, it looks mightily pretty. It tastes light and refreshing and that gorgeous tomatoey, herby gazpacho gives it an extra bit of va va voom in the flavour department. I now wish we’d each ordered one. As for that bread… delish! I mean, homemade grissini and proper focaccia! Say no more!
When it comes to choosing a main course, I am, as always, instantly drawn to the pasta, but today I feel like breaking the mould and leaning out dangerously, so in my devil may care mood, I order the Corn-Fed Chicken Supreme Marinated with Mint, Ginger and Lime with Grilled Vegetables. Now, the problem with chicken breast, supreme or otherwise, is that it always ends up a bit dry and rubbery, no matter how skillfully it has been prepared. It’s just the nature of the beast and it’s obvious, the less fat, the less moistness. And this one is no exception. I had hoped that the mint, ginger and lime would give it a bit more clout but to be honest, my taste buds can barely make them out. The saving grace however, is the warm, slightly fruity sauce that comes in a separate little sauce boat and which gives the dish the much needed zing. It’s made from veal reduction. I’m adamant about not eating veal but on this occasion, I decide to look the other way. The grilled vegetables are, well, grilled vegetables. A nice accompaniment but they don’t stand up in their own right.
The Lovely Husband has gone for the Tuscan Sausages, which also come with grilled veg and the same sauce. He tells me that they are perfectly nice and taste good, but are not particularly spectacular and at £19 for two, they are expensive. In fact, all the mains (Secondi), excepting the pasta courses (Primi), are served with the same sauce. As tasty as it is, it is also quite powerful, and that ultimately makes all the dishes quite samey.
For pud, it has got to be the Crème Brûlée all’Arancia, i.e. orange infused. It’s rich, creamy and unctuous with the perfect hard caramel top. The addition of the orange makes it extra yummy. Ooh yes please, more please! But we’re not quite done yet. We’re pushing the boat out and have ordered the Selection of Tuscan Cheeses. For once, we get a proper cheese plate, or rather slate, served with grapes, a stalk of celery, crispy flatbread and honey.
Finally, we get our habitual post dinner Americano and the bill. It comes to £116.50, including the £40 bottle of truly lovely white wine, but excluding service charge. Service, I must say, has been fantastic, unobtrusive but very attentive at all the right moments and, of course, waiting staff and sommelier all have that charming Italian accent as an added bonus.
Okay, so starter, pud and cheese were really fab, mains were palatable but, perhaps, not mindblowing, bread is charged and there is no little sweet treat with coffee, not even a cantucci or two, service was amazing, but what makes this place truly sing is the ambience, the conviviality, the warmth of the welcome and the sense of all round wellbeing you experience here. We’ll be back!
What I wore
Black scalloped silk chiffon dress with lace by Alannah Hill, fish sandals by Giuseppe Zanotti, black Chanel bag.
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