For us dining out often means an Italian restaurant. It’s my favourite style of eating with olives, breads and cold meats to nibble before sinking into a pasta dish – so bad but oh it can be so good cant it! I do wish I didn’t love bread and pasta so much but there we are. I do! And I absolutely love a good Italian meal! It’s also pretty easy with the children who like to pick at bits and eat with us, we think it’s the perfect style of family dining.
I’ve been to a fair few restaurants and had both good and poor experiences. The big chains can be good but I find places like Pizza Express very hit and miss. I think perhaps the chain is so big that consistency is difficult to maintain and although we have had very good meals there, we have also had very, very bad!
I’m certainly not adverse to a chain restaurant, indeed I’ve written about quite a few we like. I would avoid places like Pizza Hut like the plague but have had very good meals in recognisable logo’d establishments. However, I tend to find the smaller they are, the more attention to detail is paid. It stands to reason that if there are fewer it is easier to keep standards running high. The Pontis Group own a few coffee shops and restaurants, even an outside catering business but their fleet is probably more quality over quantity. Saying that I would say most people I know in London have heard of Pontis in some way or another. We know it because of the Pontis at Liverpool Street Station, a place to catch good food quickly but I had no idea they also run Pontis Italian Kitchen, a venue for dining out in more of an Italian style, long relaxed evenings with good food and good wine. They are a small chain granted but they are nothing like the image of Italian chain restaurants.
They’ve been around for 50 years and reading their website I’ve seen that they started as a family business originating from the Romagna region of Italy. This gave me high hopes for the restaurant which I was asked to try for a review. The fact they they are based in the West End, just off Oxford Street no less, did not. I am always very dubious about eating out in what I call tourist central. Restaurants have you in the palm of their hands really and can charge a fortune for absolute slop purely because of their location. I suspected the food here would be ok in a Pizza Express type way but I thought it could quite possibly be very hit and miss. It turned out I was extremely wrong in my assumptions.
I took my Father with me, we can’t remember the last time we went out to dinner together if ever and I thought if nothing else we’d be able to catch up. What struck me as we walked in was the warmth in the colours from the room. The walls, the wood and the bright, happy feel were very inviting. London was quite grey and dreary but walking into Pontis Italian felt rather like we were on holiday somewhere small and intimate, perhaps even an Italian location somewhere sunny. The restaurant was absolutely buzzing with chatter and full to the brim. Our table, a booth by the window, was one of the only free tables in the place but nobody looked hurried and the atmosphere was relaxed.
Actually as we sat and ate I didn’t really see much turn over which speaks volumes. The same people sat at their tables eating and chatting then eating some more all evening and just like us, I assume, didn’t want to leave. Our waiter Gellert was very attentive and helpful with our wine choice. He had a lot of time for us throughout our meal which wasn’t surprising as he knew we were there to review but what I saw from him was that he used the same manner with all the people he was serving. I saw him spend time with other tables just as he did with us, going over menu choices and wiping down the tables in between each course of food. He was also very knowledgeable about what we were to eat. And yes, let’s do talk about the food because it was so very, very good!
I love olives but they have to be just right. These were honestly like no others I’ve ever had before. Not marinated, not salty, not any of the things I usually consider important in an olive but they were oh so incredibly tasty! I think perhaps until I tried these maybe I didn’t really know what an olive tasted like. Fresh and fleshy and full of subtle flavour. Just delicious and with the tapanade and crisp bread they slipped down beautifully. The second dish was just as delicious and the crispy parmesan breadcrumbs were a perfect contrast to the creamy mozzarella and delicious spinach!
This wasn’t our only starter, Pontis decided a menu they would like us to try and wanted for us to have another round of starters, well, who were we to argue?
More of those lovely olives and the cold salty meats were absolutely divine. I could eat this sort of food all day long, it’s just my absolute favorite type of thing to eat I think. As for the scallops, well it’s making my mouth water thinking about them as I write. Cooked to perfection, garlicky and incredibly delicate with Parma ham and greens, spring onions I think, in a warm oily marinade… Oh just delicious and it took a lot of strength to offer the third one to my Dad after we’d had one each. I might not have ordered the scallops favouring something I eat more regularly but I’m so pleased we had them, I would definitely order them again.
As if all that food wasn’t enough it was time to move on to the mains and two full size main courses were brought to the table by Gellert.
The fish dish was a bit like a stew and with all the qualities of such it was warming and hearty. At the same time however it was light and delicious on the tongue and filled the senses with taste and smell. It was utterly beautiful and the fish just fell apart so perfectly cooked was it. I’ve not tried anything like it before but it was simply wonderful. My Father preferred this dish to the Raviolini however I think for me, as delicious as the fish was, the pasta has to have it! Raviolini, explained Gellert, is just larger Ravioli and this one was filled with spinach and ricotta. This is a combination I usually give a miss and don’t find I am all that keen on. The flavour here wasn’t like any other spinach and ricotta food I have tried though and the texture was light and fluffy. It was a heavier dish than the fish and we couldn’t eat it all (not surprising) but I gave it a jolly good go! The sauce surrounding the Raviolini was also beautifully tasting in a non overpowering way. I loved it!
By rights we shouldn’t have been able to fit anything else in. The wine Gellert had recommended, a Sauvignon, had also flowed fast throughout the meal so our tummies were very full but who couldn’t dive into this if presented it for dessert?
If you look you will see my Dad’s spoon already diving into the creamy ice cream before I’ve even taken the picture. We were absolutely stuffed but presented with this dish and we couldn’t wait. It was SO decadently delicious! Oozy in the middle, crisp on the outside and coupled with the ice cream just perfect! It was sweet and sticky with, I thought, a hint of something hot and spicy! It’s a good job I don’t know how to make dishes like this or I might not eat anything else. Often for me the dessert is just something at the end of a meal, something I might or might not have depending on how full I am and not something I put in much importance. Here and I’d say it’s the crowning glory of a very fine meal indeed!
I would certainly go back, I would take the children even, it’s a friendly and happy environment to be in. I didn’t see anyone looking unhappy or dissatisfied. Reasonable prices, amazing food and service to match. Thank you Pontis Kitchen, you are a gem in the West End and any tourist lucky enough to stumble upon you is in for a treat. For us Londoners you are very firmly on my radar now and I will be pointing my friends in your direction!
I was not paid to write this post but I was offered a complimentary meal for the purpose of an honest review.