‘Summer in Chelsea’, ‘Wild Rose’, ‘Purple Sky’ and ‘Elderflower’ – four cocktails currently being mixed at Tempo in homage to the Chelsea Flower Show which opens its gates to the public tomorrow.
A pair of townhouses at the top of Curzon Street have been converted into a restaurant, bar and private dining room. A set of stairs leads to a very unexpected space and a bar I have totally fallen in love with. It’s been restored to perfection, mixing contemporary with the classical and retaining most of the original ornateness (the decorative plaster was commissioned by former resident, the Duchess of Sutherland). A pleasant crackle of chatter in a space that’s been likened by previous guests to a private members club, although it felt much more homely than any I’ve been to. It’s a place you can get comfortable in, the kind of place where you forget you have actually booked to eat.
Tempo isn’t the first to jump on the Chelsea Flower Show bandwagon but I’m never one to turn down a free drink. When the press release arrived in my in-box I was straight back at Primrose, to invite myself along to try them. So when I asked to have a look at the floral cocktail list I was surprised there wasn’t one available, so being told the names and core ingredient, I ordered “Wild Rose”. If I had seen the ingredients I probably wouldn’t have chosen it. When Primrose sends me the list after our visit, I get to see the make up and it’s a very sweet concoction including raspberries, apple juice, honey, elderflower Cordial, Lanique Vodka Rose Petal Liqueur and the lime laced cane sugar Falernum. It was way, way too sweet for me, and I could just about pick out the core ingredient but found it hard to trace the others. I sipped it and left it, including the edible pansy but it did look amazing. “Purple Sky” on the other hand was completely divine. A Tanqueray Gin based cocktail, with a dash of violet resulted in the most beautiful purple hue. As I stole the majority of a cocktail which wasn’t mine, I was transported back to my schooldays – remember Swizzels Matlow Parma Violets?
Originally inviting myself to sample the cocktails, the owner Henry Tonge, asked if I’d like to taste the dinner menu and so of course it would have been terribly rude not to. Henry’s grandfather is Italian so I see where the menu takes it’s inspiration – seasonal, fresh, simply prepared with bags of flavour and like his favourite restaurant the River Cafe driven by its ethos, with menus changing regularly according to market.
The ground-floor dining space is bright and is glass fronted. Comfortable chairs upholstered in turquoise velvet surround marble-effect glass-topped tables.
From arrival to departure, the service was impeccable although the staff knew that we were guests of the owner I kept an eye on tables throughout the meal and there were more then enough staff to cope with the covers and all diners were being very well attended to. The restaurant had a nice mid-week buzz and there were only a couple of tables unoccupied. Eating at one, was Henry who took the trouble to visit the diners and chat to them about their food. The Maitre D’, David Vindis was, as you’d expect, wholly knowledgable about the menu, he told us where the food was sourced and helpfully suggested we sample a cross section of the menu.
The brightly coloured array of Chicchetti were a welcome sight for any empty stomach. The main point of small plates is to keep the stomach “quiet” while the pasta’s cooking. Of the four sampled, the Bruschetta di Piselli scored very highly, a wonderfully bright green smashing of spring peas with pecorino. The rich and flavoursome, typically Tuscan, Crostino di Fegatini di Pollo was a rich pate bursting with taste, enough to convert any offal hater, and was spread thickly on a piece of toasted bread which bowed 180 degrees as it was lifted, the sheer weight of the topping could have done with a little more architectural support from it’s thinly cut base. The saltiness of the buttery Burrata on the Bruschetta di Burrata and Pepperoni with the sweetness of the pepper ticked all the right boxes. What stood out for me though was the Crostino di Gamberetti blush pink prawns with crisp green samphire – bundles of just netted fresh sea taste, the only thing lacking was the sound of a lapping shoreline and I think even Tempo might struggle with that. Selection of two £6.75, three £9.75.
The carpaccios – swordfish, tuna and beef displayed the fine knife skills of the Japanese chef Yoshi Yamada. He’s worked under Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, L’Atelier de Robuchon in Japan and in Italy spending four years cooking in Sardinia, Florence and Michelin-starred Don Alfonso in Naples. He’s assisted by Sous Chef Carlo Scotto D’apollonia who took the time to come and say hello and I just loved that.
The Spada, whilst cut as thin as a tracing paper lacked any real taste for me and whilst simply prepared, I was left lacking and I think I would have been a little disappointed if I’d paid £9.75 for it. Manzo however delivered in spades, with generous sheet-thin slivers of Scotch beef, topped with rocket and whole toasted hazelnuts and at £10.25 a fair price. Tonno, lightly dressed with olive oil and lemon was topped with dill and chives – enough to matter – and I’m pleased to say nowhere near the lawn mower cutting proportions often delivered.
Asparagi came on a large plate, a tower of green and white asparagus on a lattice piped creamy bagna cauda. For someone who cannot stand anchovies, I didn’t try it, but I was assured it was garlicky, salty and creamy and there was enough to drag the anchovies through. A very reasonable £10.50.
When the pasta arrives I’m beginning to wish I’d ignored David’s advice. A liberal bowl full of Tagliolini Nero is placed before me. The ebony pasta topped with fleshy crab was sprinkled with red shards of chilli. A taste as delicate as the care no doubt taken to remove the flesh from the crab shell and worth the £13.50 for the small plate – larger portions are available for those going straight for the pasta course. Parpadelle with a strong wild boar was outstanding. The balance of what can be overpowering cingalle paired with an even stronger rosemary was matched to perfection in the herb-laden gravy. I assume the egg-yolk rich pasta is home made and tasted as good as any I’ve eaten. Again, a small plate was ample and excellent value at £13.00.
One of the stars of the meal, and I’m still dreaming of it, was the plate of Gamberoni. Fat, pink, Italian crustacea, simply grilled, served with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon and a snip at £19.25. The Merluzzo in Acqua Pazza was cooked to perfection. The dense meaty cod steak was cooked throughout yet retained it’s fishy moisture. The herbed broth was well flavoured and worked very well, again a large dish at a fairly-priced £16.50.
We didn’t order sides, simply because we were full to bursting, but I would love to have tried the zucchini fritte – my favourite all time fritte is prepared at Chelsea’s long established La Famiglia and I always use that as my measure. All priced between £3.50 and £4.00.
Sadly, Dolci was out of the question, we just could not move let alone lift a desert spoon. A pause was suggested but I needed a full twelve hours before I’d attempt anything solid. Lemon tart here is apparently sublime – but I’m afraid I can go only on hearsay. We managed a caffe and a delicious cappuccino served the Italian way, well frothed milk without chocolate sprinklings. I couldn’t believe we spent a very pleasurable three hours on a school night in Tempo but I guess that’s what having a good time is all about. I’ll definitely be recommending it and going back – this time I’ll pay Henry!
Thanks to Primrose at Tempo’s PR Agency Jori White for organising my visit and to Henry Tonge, Director, Tempo who picked up my bill.
Tempo Restaurant & Bar, 54 Curzon Street, London, W1J 8PG 020 7629 2742 http://www.tempomayfair.co.uk