Taking on the moniker of a Renaissance polymath suggests multiple aspirations, and there are certainly many impressive strands to Machiavelli’s bow. However, happily the place is simply too charming to ring true to any of the more ruthless associations of its famous namesake.
Situated on the very busy Long Acre, and a mere stroll from Covent Garden Piazza or the theatres of the West End, Machiavelli is (true to the name) right in the heart of things and ready to engage with many audiences. The ground floor houses a stylish delicatessen and homeware shop selling seasonal imported foods and goods from Italy, but also incorporates a handful of covers for light bites, coffees, cakes or fuller fare for those weary shoppers tempted in by the glorious displays. Downstairs a tranquil, chic and minimalist dining room - redolent of a trattoria as imagined by Farrow & Ball - is an enticing space for those wishing to linger and enjoy the superb food and faultless service on offer.
Aiming for so many targets, and occupying what is a largely transient part of town, means that the atmosphere of Machiavelli varies somewhat with the prevailing audience of any given visit – pre-theatre and the dining room hums, a busy Saturday and the ground floor is abuzz – but the restaurant has by its own devising made it harder for itself to define any consistent ‘feel’. This is a challenge that is, in large part, overcome by a retinue of extremely gracious, informed and helpful staff who do much to create an energised, open and thoroughly enjoyable environment in which visitors can feel as welcome having coffee and cake as they would settling in for a relaxed and extravagant meal.
Machiavelli rightly prides itself on quality produce, sustainably sourced and imported from across Italy, and the care and expertise in selection shows across all of their menus. Be it breakfast, lunch, dinner, nibbles, take-away or a simple shop in the deli each offering is ripe with carefully chosen meats, cheeses, fish and vegetables lovingly and sensitively prepared, and the Italian respect for simple flavours and deft combinations is evident.
The dinner menu offers a stunning long-horn beef carpaccio; wafer thin and melt in the mouth fresh, elegantly served with a good handful of peppery rocket itself lifted by a light but sharp citrus balsamic, and strips of parmesan. A simple dish which epitomises the confidence in ingredients and the sophistication of palate the kitchen clearly boasts. Starters this good will end up being shared regardless so those prepared to formalise the arrangement can opt for an antipasta platter or a clever plate of mozzarella, burrata and scamorza, each delicious cheese brilliantly and simply matched with a regionally paired tomato to provide foil to the smoky or creamy richness.
The list of mains on the lunch or dinner menu is reassuringly short and each is clearly a well considered and carefully constructed dish. The veal ossobuco with gremolata and grilled polenta shows that the care in selection extends to the finer cuts of meat – this Milanese speciality hinges on the quality of the meat and the care with which it is cooked and the result here is wonderfully tender and well seasoned flesh, deftly accompanied with a sharp gremolata, that literally falls off the bone. At the simpler end of the menu the mushroom ravioli is no less impressive – delicate pasta parcels of a deep, woody mushroom filling sumptuously dressed in a rich, creamy sauce; this is comfort food of the highest order.
Desserts continue the fine display of technique – a flourless chocolate cake maintains a rich and indulgent air despite its lightness, whilst the chocolate and raspberry cheesecake is a brilliantly executed combination of airy, mousse-like raspberry topping stunningly juxtaposed with a dense, almost bitter chocolate base. There is great artistry in Italian cooking, and it is a sadness that the inevitable Anglicisation of some of its culinary traditions have inured our palates to fast-food pizzas and pastas. Happily the long, rich, sensuous and delicious traditions of the nation's cooking is kept alive with great integrity at this impressive spot.
A good range of cocktails (very reasonably priced for the area), aperitifs, beers and a fine selection of teas and soft drinks are all to be found on the menu at Machiavelli – the drinks offer being as varied as the food – but it is the wine list that shows the true colours of the place, and they are unashamedly green, white and red. The wine list contains nothing but Italian offerings, each enthusiastically described, and it reads as a love letter to the vineyards of the home country. The range is excellent and shows a willingness to look beyond the expected - both in terms of region and grape, and whilst the majority of bottles hover around the £30 mark (with a few reaching higher) they represent excellent value and offer a welcome chance to look beyond the normal supermarket hegemony. The elegant, rich and long finish of an exquisite Sardinian Carignan/Shiraz blend shows perfectly what rewards are available for choices rarely made.
The Last Word
There is in reality little to connect the eponymous philosopher to this superb Italian restaurant, unassumingly hidden away underneath what to a passing eye would seem to be a simple deli/café. However, a true Renaissance man such as Machiavelli would surely have delighted in the honouring of the traditions of his beloved Italy and, despite himself, found nourishment here.