I must admit I didn’t know much about Massimo Riccoli. I had read somewhere that he was known to be a bit of a master with fish, and has been serving it to regulars at the popular La Rosetta in Rome since 1966. The chef’s brief bio sounded promising, so I booked in for dinner at his barely month-old restaurant Massimo in London’s swish (and equally new) Corinthia Hotel with G – the ideal dining companion for the evening, with her being half Italian and all. We began our evening sipping bellinis at the elegant oyster bar and spent a good few minutes animatedly catching up before the waitress politely interrupted to show us to our table.
We made our selections for primi and secondi, and added a couple of the crudo dishes from the extensive bar menu so we’d have something to nibble on while we waited. It would seem however that the kitchen had already considered this, as opening bites of Mackerel and Crab Croquette promptly arrived to whet our appetite after the menus were whisked away.
Both were delicious. The mackerel was moist and the soupçon of tart pink grapefruit was an excellent foil for the oily fish. The lightly-crumbed crab fritter resting on a dab of mash was crisp and still warm, with a lovely soft centre.
The crudo plates were also great – we especially liked the Sea Bass with Citrus (opening image) which was delicate yet zesty. Although initially unsure about the flavouring of the Scallop crudo, the Orange and Vanilla notes were subtle and complemented the raw sweet slivers well.
For the primi we both chose pasta. Mine, the Linguine ‘Carmelo style’ (Carmelo is Massimo’s father) with Clams, Prawns, Squid, Mussels and fresh Tomatoes, was simple, fresh and not over-sauced, with only a slick of sauce coating the al dente strands, allowing the shellfish to shine.
G also enjoyed her Beetroot Gnocchi with Aubergines but noted that there wasn’t enough salted Ricotta (which the waiter worryingly described as pecorino).
Sadly mains weren’t quite as well received. I had envisaged succulent, moist meatballs when ordering the Oxtail Meatballs with Jerusalem Artichoke Purée and Muscat Sauce. Instead I got five fritters very similar in appearance to the crab ones that graced our table earlier in the meal. Although tasty, it could hardly be considered a main and I found the deep-fried orbs difficult to eat with only a tiny stack of roasted jerusalem artichokes and a trickle of rich sauce. I ordered a side salad to lighten the dish, but even with the greens and a luscious Barbera d’Alba (Tre Vigne, 2007) to help me along I left two of the balls – they were just too dry and heavy.
The Red Mullet with Fennel and Orange Salad was more of a balanced main but G was disappointed by how dry the fillets were – unforgivable considering that Massimo has been cooking in a fish-only restaurant for over forty years. Perhaps the chef patron wasn’t spending enough time in the kitchen – we caught glimpses of him throughout our meal as he hobnobbed around the room, not stopping at our table until (while bestowing a free plate to the couple on the next table) he spotted us looking up at him. He quickly stepped over, shook both our hands then returned to his friends without a word – no introduction, no greeting, nada.
Still confused by the bizarre exchange we perused the rather uninspiring list of desserts. We finally decided to share the Millefeuille with Lemon Cream and Summer Fruits which could have been daintier (the pastry layers were a touch thick), but was still quite a lovely and soothing end.
There’s no denying that the setting is beautiful – the interior is well-considered and polished, as one would expect of a David Collins-designed space, with impressive globe light fixtures and looming pillars accenting the room. Service is enthusiastic and friendly, but could be improved. Although the food was inconsistent to say the least, I wouldn’t rule out returning – the crudo and pasta were definitely worth a revisit and I’m keen to spend a lazy weekend lunch sampling their oyster and cold seafood selection at the gorgeous bar.
Massimo Restaurant & Oyster Bar
London SW1Y 2BD
t. 020 7998 0555