The Blog

This Week I Ate... Toto's

The menu was classic, it had promise... But the two-million pound refurbish, the high-ceilingness, the excellent wines and great service simply could not disguise the hollowness that existed at the centre of my experience.

I went to Toto's this week. It's a secretive and ultra-smart Italian joint in a small mews off Walton Street. The place had been going for years but then shut in 2012. It was the sort of re-assuringly up-market Italian joint that the up-market neighbours in this up-market part of town could rely on. Business had been dwindling but, luckily for the not-cash-strapped regulars, rather than die a lonely death, along came some big cheeses from the restaurant business. There was the brilliant Silvano Giraldin, an utterly charming man who for squillions of years ushered people into Le Gavroche.

Now edging towards his dotage he consults, picking up a bob or two for the benefit of his majestic knowledge of managing smart restaurants. Added to the mix was a chef called Stefano Stecca who for a while was Giorgio Locatelli's right-hand man at Zafferano. He then headed up a number of serious Italian gaffes before also notching up some consultancies from Moscow to Tokyo.

Now he's back at the helm and at Toto's (named after that creepy Italian clown). And after two years the place has re-opened with a flourish. The sort of flourish that comes when millions of pounds have been spent.

You arrive and walk straight into a bar, which is always a good idea because you get a nice drinky drinky style welcome. The chirpy bar manager made me a delicious Bellini with a rich kick that came from the naughty addition of peach schnapps.

Then down the stairs we went to the restaurant, a high-ceilinged place that has been a chapel and an artist's studio during its lifetime. There is a large, heavy, wooden-framed fireplace. It's huge actually, alarmingly so, the victor, perhaps in a How Big, Heavy and Dark Can You Make Your Fireplace competition.

Then we set about the menu. And so far all so good. And I'm trying to remain up-beat, because I love a smart Italian joint, with all those sharp-suited waiters, ever eager, super confident about their offerings.

The menu was classic, it had promise. And so to offer it fair judgement I went for some of those classics and being determined to respect the traditions of guzzling Italian gastro-culture steeled myself for antipasti, pasta, meat then pud.

But the two-million pound refurbish, the high-ceilingness, the excellent wines and great service simply could not disguise the hollowness that existed at the centre of my experience.

Out came burrata with cherry tomatoes. Fine ingredients maybe, but ruined by being served too chilled. So I couldn't enjoy the sweetness of the little tomatoes or the lush gooeyness of the cheese. And you really can't send a dish back asking for it to be returned when it has reached room temperature.

Or if you can you need to be a more patient man than I. And my patience was already being tested at the sight of a table of 20-something girls all sitting in a circle and all just looking at their phones - the sorts of tragic, senile antics that makes me want to set fire to a heavy wooden fire-surround, my trousers and anything else in close proximity.

Then came pasta, a nice bowl of tagliatelle with mushrooms covered, layered, heaving with truffles. This is a supposed sign of flashness, not just little shavings of this delicacy, but huge slices. And yet I have never eaten such dull, cardboard-like, devoid of flavour truffles. The pasta was lovely though, deep, rich sauce, the tagliatelle, just right. But those truffles. It makes me sigh just to think of them. Like Toto the Clown bringing a stuffed rabbit out of his hat, or a just-dead one, so recently expired that it didn't even smell.

Surely there was hope with our meat course, for we ordered a magnificent-sounding T-bone Fiorentina, a treat surely for any meat-eating Italian food lover.

It was nicely charred, nicely pinky-bloody-red. But it was chewy and lacking. Perhaps not hung for long enough, who knows. All I know is that I know how a gorgeous, melting piece of meat makes me feel. And I wasn't feeling it.

So we tried to end on a classic flourish, some chocolate gelati. The thought of rich, sweet, deeply chocolatey Italian ice-cream is enough to make me book flights. I'm trying to think of it now. I'm trying to use the concept of parallelism to create a new memory in my mind. A memory that my dinner at Toto's ended with such a plate of ice cream. Well it didn't. Sniff, sigh... Next week I'm in Greece. If I can find wifi I'll file a dispatch from the frontline... and I'll explain my deep love of retsina.