Eating Out

Sloane danger

Obvious, expensive and tasteless, Azzurra’s food perfectly echoes Mr Angell’s ambience

This article is taken from the April 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

In the 1950s, Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire accompanied her daughter on a culturally improving visit to Paris. As recounted in a letter by Deborah’s sister, Nancy Mitford, the ladies got as far along their itinerary as Notre Dame when the Duchess announced, “Now darling, you’ve seen the outside, so you can imagine the inside. Let’s go to Dior.”

Sometimes, just sometimes, a restaurant comes along which inspires the same confidence. The first time I walked past Azzurra, just by the Peter Jones end of the bit of Sloane Street that is perpetually being dug up, I knew precisely how preposterously awful it was going to be.

From the location (the soulless no-man’s land between SWs 1 and 3) to the size (vast) to the gilded tangle of fishing nets depending from the ceiling, I knew that slaughtering this place was going to be as much fun as the time they got the lawyers in when I wrote about Sexy Fish.

Azzurra is the latest project from David Yeo of Aqua group, which owns five other sites in London. It promises a “boat to table experience”, inspired by the boss’s immersive travels through Sicily and the Amalfi coast, which is just lovely, and the azure-toned space (with guest DJs), evokes shimmering water, which might just be reflected in the huge verre églomisé — their description — mirror behind the 16-metre bar. Do admit that’s smart. Also, you will be greeted in Italian.

After being greeted in Italian, we were shown to one of four occupied tables in a space which can probably do 200 covers. The guest DJ was nowhere to be seen, but someone had plonked on a playlist of Nineties Café del Mar. Even with such minimal occupancy, the room’s acoustic was tinny and booming; when full it must be infernal. Or buzzy and vibrant, if you prefer.

There was a bit of shimmering going on in the form of the bum-skimming sequinned dresses of the spectacularly professional trio of ladies enjoying cocktails, though the installation of the Tyrrhenian Sea was perhaps having a bit of a cost-of-living crisis.

The immersive art is the responsibility of a man named Robert Angell, who perhaps hadn’t thought through the implications of spray-painting a job lot of flotsam intended to recall the worthless discards of the Med, but one couldn’t say it didn’t resonate.

Obvious, expensive and tasteless, Azzurra’s food perfectly echoes Mr Angell’s ambience. It purports to be the fainest (sic) seafood from British waters, served “mere hours after the catch”, which was a bit confusing where the menu featured Japanese sea urchin and Sicilian red prawns, but the “Indulgent” seafood plate for two at £135.00 duly included Cornish crab, Welsh lobster and Colchester oysters.

I asked if it was possible to have some shallot vinegar for the oysters, but the waiter said they didn’t have that. Or a shallot, some vinegar and a knife, apparently.

The prawns were chilly and glutinous, the crab had been shredded into a bowl with some industrial mayonnaise and a strong whiff of sewer, and the lobster was woolly and embarrassed. We were given some lobster forks, which the waiter kindly explained were to get the difficult bits out, but no-one had the heart to shame the poor beast further, not that it stopped the waiter coming back resentfully to inform us we’d missed a bit before the Indulgence was removed.

Alongside eight choices of raw, poor-quality fish, Azzurra offers a piscine affettati misti with seabass “pancetta” and swordfish “’nduja”, as well as a unique take on swordfish cooked in the style of veal Milanese, i.e. breadcrumbed and fried, which tasted similar to another unique take on fish fillet introduced by McDonald’s in 1962.

The chef is Sardininan, which at least meant the pasta offerings came in fun shapes. Lorighittas, the chewy, braided form traditionally made in Morgongiori, arrived in a disappointingly adequate sauce of baby octopus with chilli, tomato and Capo Caccia olive oil, but the casarecce with olive pesto, Bronte pistachio and smoked soy cheese were a spectacular return to Azzurra form, simultaneously slimy, dry and revoltingly argumentative. Truly, one of the nastiest Italian recipes one could find outside the Futurist manifesto.

There’s a list of pretentiously named pizzas from which I tried a “Partenopea”, which came bianca, with some lumps of Italian sausage and a few scraps of broccoli, edible if far from ambrosial.

In the interests of fairness, I should point out that the wine list featured a Verdicchio from the Marche, a grassy, smoky wine not found so often in London; and the staff were nice, apart from the officious lobster-shamer.

They volunteered to prepare tiramisu for us at the table even after we begged them not to, and the manager’s tone when he asked us if we’d had an enjoyable evening was convincingly mournful.

When Azzurra opened, David Yeo noted archly that “we’re not going to be chasing Michelin stars”, so that’s just as well, and perhaps it will make lots of money for its corporate investors. I couldn’t have disliked it more.

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