Venetian Food In Chaotic Surroundings, Courtesy Of Cecconi's Pizza Bar
"If you close your eyes, it's like you're in a rowdy old pub on a Friday night".
Not what we expected from Cecconi's Pizza Bar, the new Soho sibling of Venetian restaurant Cecconi's Mayfair, but 20 minutes into our visit, the overwhelming din is all we can think about. The combination of loud music and unfortunate acoustics is inescapable — other people's conversations being bounced right at us. It might be all chilled out, pavement cafe vibes from outside on Old Compton Street, but inside it's very different.
The menu has plenty of choice for meat eaters, veggies and vegans. It begins with Cicchetti — small snacks and side dishes typically served in bars in Venice — before moving onto pasta, pizzas and salads.
At the suggestion of our waiter, we opt for a Cicchetti dish each to act as a starter, to be followed up with a pizza each for main course. They actually arrive within seconds of each other, leaving little room on the petite bar-style table, the pizzas getting cold while we tuck into the beautifully-presented Cicchetti.
The meatballs are deliciously tender, four of them the perfect size for a starter. The tomato and cheese sauce oozes freshness, toeing the line perfectly between tasty and tangy. The salad borders on culinary architecture, lettuce leaves fanned out dramatically, supported by a rainbow of carrots. Thankfully, there's an excess of both the tomato sauce from the meatballs, and the basil and avocado pesto from the salad — we need them to make it through those pizzas.
Compared to other regions of Italy — Naples, for example — Venetian-style pizza is widely acknowledged as being a bit sub-standard, something that has been authentically recreated here. The pizza crusts are so hardened, and in some parts burned, that neither the serrated knives we're provided with, nor our teeth, make any headway into cutting them. Soaking them in our remaining sauces and dips to soften them is the only way to go. The effort proves worth it though, as the centre of the pizzas are so deliciously soft and doughy, oozing with toppings, that we're willing to forgive the pizza chef's rocky start.
Our waiter suggests we try some pasta as well, so we opt for a carbonara to share. In the end, it never turns up, but we're so stuffed, that's more of a relief than a qualm. Its failure to materialise, though, is one of many rusty cogs in the evening.
The waiting staff haven't quite found their rhythm yet — understandable considering Cecconi's Pizza Bar has only been open a week. We're served by no fewer than six different people throughout our visit, two attempting to take our food orders in quick succession while nobody thinks to offer us drinks. When our food course arrives, there's a wait for cutlery, and when we ask which flavours of sorbet are available, the waiter lists one as "either cherry or sherry", he's not sure. It's a short wait on the edge of our seat before a fruit-based dessert materialises. Piquant, fruity and refreshing, with a bit of a kick, the cherry sorbet is by far the high point of the meal. Ordering multiple scoops is advised.
It's not quite Fawlty Towers, but neither is Cecconi's as slick as one might expect from such sleek surroundings. Hopefully it's just teething problems. But that racket? As the evening goes on, the lights gradually dim and the volume goes up and up. Ultimately, it's what forces us to leave earlier than we would otherwise have done. Maybe we've morphed into our grandmothers before our time.
Cecconi's Pizza Bar, 19-21 Old Compton Street.
Last Updated 01 June 2018