This new addition to London is a proper theatre restaurant - but one that can be taken as an experience in its own right, too.
St. James Theatre has been newly built in the quiet Palace Street, with the intention to have an innovative, exciting program. As a demonstration of this ethos, plans for the theatre incorporated two venues: a brasserie in the foyer and a restaurant on the first floor. Intended to have lives of their own not necessarily linked to the theatre, the two are joined together by a unique marble staircase (called Final Encore, designed by artist designer Mark Humphrey) made from the moniker, as it were: Carrara is an Italian city famous for its marble caves.
With this cultural backdrop, it is no surprise that the décor at Carrara is at the same time evocative of Italian Classicism, and somewhat theatrical. Immaculate white tablecloths mingle with a traditional set up of small tables and some padded benches towards the back, while oversized lamps and other objects are displayed in front of the windows. The environment is classic and elegant but clearly contemporary.
If the ground floor brasserie is more informal, Carrara is quieter, more intimate and exuding that type of refinement which is usually the prerogative of high-end French and Italian restaurants. The positive thing is that it is also not formal or stuffy: the staff are knowledgeable but friendly, while the ambiance is not the type where you will hear your cutlery and glasses rattle against the dead silence. Pleasant and elegant, Carrara remains best enjoyed for its most obvious purpose: a pre- or post-theatre meal.
The menu is Italian more in ingredients and in (some) recipes, rather than essence. Within the starters (£6-£11, a handful available), there is little to remind you of Italy, besides the radicchio salad served with pressed rabbit terrine and picked blackberries. Other options include succulent pan-fried scallops with black pudding, and char-grilled marinated squid salad. The same goes for the mains: you can pick from grilled options (£14.50-£18.50) and Italian classics (£7.50-£12), as well as a few easy crowd-pleasers such as fish and chips.
The steak is an (understandably) popular choice and it comes served fashionably on a slate tray. The wonderful tuna steak is a close second. Opting for something more creative, like the confit duck leg with cannellini bean cassoulet and orange reduction will demonstrate the ability of the chefs, while the classic Italian dishes declare the quality of the ingredients as well as the execution of simple recipes (which in this case is sufficient without being extraordinary).
Finish things off with one of the mostly British desserts (£3-£6), with sticky toffee puddings, (somebody's) grandma’s secret recipe of Bramley apple crumble with warm custard, and Jude’s organic ice creams all available.
There are three dozen bottles to choose from, between reds, whites and rosés. The prices are moderate, ranging from £17-£50 per bottle (plenty of options in the £20-£30 region) with a few glasses (£5-£7.50 also available). A dozen champagnes (£24.50-£185) and a few beers (£3.50-£5.50) can be had too, as well as dessert wines, port and fortified coffee. The wine and champagne selection strikes as exhaustive. The rest feels more standard but definitely satisfying.
The Last Word
The only two complaints you can have about Carrara is that it's perhaps a tad pricey and is in a slightly odd location. Otherwise it's a decent restaurant with competence on both sides of the pass.