Quite why anyone would choose Tim Lovejoy as a brand ambassador is beyond the realms of comprehension for any sane mind, especially one that has processed that excruciating television advert. Thankfully the smirking buffoon doesn’t appear here – the first UK restaurant from Italian pasta master, Giovanni Rana.
Right in the midst of Regent’s Place, and at the feet of all those sparkling high-rise offices, this brand-spanking new venue certainly has a prime spot, not least for lunchtime trade from local businesses. It may be a touch too bright, and is certainly too loud, but the big centrepiece of a bar, the swooping lampshades, the industrial ducts and the huge and gleaming glass façade certainly make it attractive enough to garner plenty of interest from passersby. The swathes of mustard yellow (the Rana hue) might not be to everyone’s taste, but on the whole it’s a pleasant place in which to dine, and seems like a good spot for the workers at lunchtime and those wandering off the beaten track when darkness falls.
There’s definitely not enough softness to the décor, so this place really is loud; so much so that it does have the air of a canteen about it. A few furnishings to soften things up a tad would have worked wonders but as long as you’re not heading down for a romantic meal with your beloved then it’s not too much of a problem. It’s best suited to all those architects, accountants, bankers and IT workers beavering away nearby, and it’s these that seem to make up most of the numbers, with big groups taking up joined-together tables whilst ladies lunch, lone diners dine and those with time on their hands prop up the bar. Staff seem pretty impeccable, have a very sound knowledge of the menu and are even capable of throwing in an Italian accent or two, just for good measure.
The Giovanni Rana brand is one of the biggest fresh pasta producers in Italy, and boasts a number of restaurants throughout Europe, with this one being its first venture on our dear shores. Although the pasta itself is no longer all made by hand (you’d need a fair few hands) it’s still pretty good, and those in the kitchen here seem to have a pretty impressive grasp on timing, so it’s all perfectly al dente.
It’s not just pasta on the menu though, with some of the other options actually being the picks of the bunch – not least the gamberoni (£7.50), where fresh and flavoursome king prawns are sautéed in a really, really good mix of white wine, chilli, garlic and loads of lemon to offer just the right amount of acidity to cut through the sweetness of the prawns. It’s served with some very good grilled bread that comes in handy for mopping up every bit of that broth – which you will want to do. The scamorza (£5.25) is an attractive little salad of grilled soft cheese, rocket, roasted pumpkin and balsamic, and even though it’s perfectly pleasant, it could do with the cheese being a little less meek – it’s just not as smoky as it should be.
Mains are massive, and you get the feeling that bosses nearby will soon put a stop to their staff heading down here for lunch: even a strong coffee finds it difficult to defy the doze. The tagliatelle al pollo (£9.75) comprises perfectly cooked pasta snaking through an almost unfeasibly rich cream and artichoke sauce, with a few well-seasoned slices of chicken breast sitting atop. It’s undeniably good, but probably a tad too rich for most. Orecchiettine pugliese (£9.75) features similarly impressive pasta – this time orechiette, or ‘small ears’ as the menu describes them – with a rich tomato sauce, some veg and a liberal sprinkling of spicy Italian sausage. Again, it’s huge, but the more delicate sauce enables the spicy bite of the sausage and the flavour of the pasta to come through a little more clearly.
If you have room for dessert then they follow the rest of the menu in being uncomplicated Italian staples, so expect profiteroles, pannacotta, panettone and tiramisu, with none of them going very far past a fiver, and all of them looking every bit as good as the Italians expect them to be. There’s also a decent breakfast menu too, with pastries and porridge no doubt acting as all-too-temporary life-savers for those who forgot it was a school night.
A glass of prosecco to start is pretty good value at £5.95, but if you want to carry on with the booze then there are bottles of Peroni, Moretti and Nastro, as well as a decent, all Italian wine list boasting a good range of bins to match many of the flavours on the menu.
Everything bar the bubbly and a couple of the proseccos is available by the glass, with a couple by the carafe too. A good valpolicella at £28.95 shows there’s certainly value to be had, but if you do want to splash out a little more then go for the ’98 Indré Antica Barolo from Castello di Montegrosso at what looks like a very reasonable £45.
A fair few soft options are available for those keeping totally tee, but it’s the coffee that’s really worth trying, with a rich and strong Americano coming in at a very reasonable £1.80 – so even if you don’t need porridge or pastry, it’s probably worth nipping by in the morning too.
The Last Word
Rid your mind of Lovejoy luring ladies into his lair and you should find dining here a pretty enjoyable experience. A good spot for some decent, well-priced Italian fare.