Saturday, 13 August 2011

Restaurant Review: Tempo

It's Italy, Mayfair style at Tempo. With a Japanese chef, obviously. This review was originally written for Blue Tomato magazine.

 A grand sounding Italian venue nestled in the heart of Mayfair, the thought of Tempo evokes ideas of luxury and extravagance. This is perhaps partly due to the association with owner Henry Tonga, a former hotelier and regular on London’s elite scene, who ran the now closed hotel 22 Jermyn Street. These high expectations are complicated by the knowledge that Tempo’s chef is not Italian at all, but Japanese. Are we in store for a touch of fusion?

There’s certainly no shortage of luxury on entering Tempo. The downstairs restaurant pulls off decidedly high-end dining in a light, spacious atmosphere that is as far from stuffy old-school Mayfair as could be. There’s an opulent operatic feel that befits the restaurant’s name, particularly in the smaller upstairs bar area, with hanging drapes, plush sofas and a grand fireplace bestowing a homely mansion-like charm. We can’t help but imagine that this would be the ideal site for a wild house party, the likes of which Mayfair squatters and members of the Skins crew have thrown over the years. We wouldn’t encourage it, though – as the food comes out it seems unlikely that any wannabe squatters could knock up dishes of quite the same standard.

We start with a signature of the restaurant: cicchetti. These small plates could be roughly described as Italian tapas, and though they can be found at other restaurants around London (most famously Polpo, Polpetto and Spuntino), few venues use the cicchetti description.

Bite-size treats we try include mini salads with mullet roe, garlicky prawns, and a selection of toasts topped with meats and pastes. Highlights include a toast topped with creamy burrata cheese, and another spread with a soft, slightly salty chorizo-like spicy sausage, which we could have eaten all night.

A couple of light-hearted parallels could be drawn to Japanese cooking in the mullet roe tasters, but we’re glad that there’s no sign of fusion going on. The focus on high quality ingredients, freshness, simplicity and a flare for presentation is about as close as the two cuisines get.

Though you’d be very welcome to sit in Tempo and eat cicchetti all night, and we’d happily do so, we endeavoured to also try some of the larger dishes on offer. A simple spinach gnocchi stands out particularly. It’s not the excellent creamy, cheesy and perfectly seasoned sauce that gets us really excited, but the delectably soft, melting texture of the gnocchi dumplings themselves. We fear that having devoured these near-perfect creations, we may never again be able to face the bullet-like specimens that many an establishment has been known to serve. We are officially gnocchi snobs, and proud of it.

We’d been warned earlier to save room for dessert. And though we’ve never really had any problem squeezing one in before (we’re professionals), we can see why they were so keen. We could only make mildly sexual noises as we indulged our way through a gloriously wobbly, citrus-packed lemon tart, savouring the shuddering lemon-curd centre that nestled between a crisp caramel bruleé top and crumbly, buttery pastry.

Tempo brings a slice of Italian style to London, offering luxury at every turn but never charging too much for it. Though the skills of the Japanese chef are reflected in the precise cooking of the dishes, there’s never a temptation to show off – it’s about doing simple and doing it well. In a market dominated by middle-of-the-road Italian chains, Tempo is a worthy ambassador for what the cuisine should be.

Tempo, 54 Curzon Street, W1J 8PG

>> originally published in Blue Tomato magazine

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