Though London is a city celebrated for its culinary diversity – punchy Peruvian picanterias; ramen houses that ladle up scorching-hot noodles; and great destinations serving Sri Lankan fare – it is still a place where Italian cuisine knows no bounds and the options, from bisteccas to pici, are seemingly endless. But Sparrow, the follow-up act to its Los Angeles original, the popular downtown restaurant that’s been whisking in customers for its wood-fired pizzas, glorious puttanesca, and small dishes such as braised Wagyu meatballs with whipped ricotta, is a standout smash-hit where the kitchens of Italy and the Mediterranean are modernised.
Located in the centre of Mayfair, not far from the retail haven of Liberty and the fine canvases at The RA, Sparrow is the result of a partnership between Noble 33, Mikey Tanha and Tosh Berman’s hospitality venture renowned for its set of vibrant stateside restaurants, and Khaled Dandachi, a seasoned hospitality operator.
Across the sizeable, multi-level space, so large it could likely host a couple of tennis matches inside, there’s a ground-floor brasserie that leads up to a terrace dining room, a parlour eaterie on the second floor, and a cigar lounge at the top. The interiors, done out with hallmarks of classic Italian and Med aesthetics – huge stretches of neutral tones with blue and emerald flourishes, hits of marble and wood, and massive planted olive trees, with illumination from contemporary lighting that hangs above – are a medley of parts that simultaneously speak of refined south-European fine-diners, but also of the polished, special-occasion establishments that continue to uphold culinary standards on the west coast.
The buzzy pulse here is a fine thing, less family-operated trattoria and more of a members’-style club, but chef AJ McCloud’s bill of fare – which aims to evoke the breeziness of the southern-European coast, taking traditional Italian and Mediterranean dishes and bringing them up to date, with a focus on from-scratch pastas, wood-fired dishes, catch of the day, and with sustainability at the core – is the true crowning glory.
Hits have included red snapper that’s been salt crusted and just ideal with baby potatoes; a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes, which are composed on a white plate like a piece of contemporary art; and the evergreen favourite of A5 carpaccio, which is to say finely sliced Wagyu with pickled mushrooms, dabbed with a bit of ‘umami aioli’, and perfumed with black truffles shaved à la minute. The branzino has been grilled, and showered with Sicilian pistachios and a sprig of fine herbs; and there’s a classic Roman dish of cacio e pepe, which is focused on chitarra pasta brought tableside within a wheel of Tuscan pecorino cheese and mixed around with parmesan.
Moreover, though this Mayfair fixture shares much of the same DNA as its LA counterpart, McCloud has conceived arrangements exclusive to London: linguine served with British Isles lobster, the zip of lemon-parsley butter, and acqua pazza; meanwhile The Sparrow Fusilli brings together burro di parma, pomodoro, and a fresh smack of basil.
There are also fine, Italian-inspired libations to ease the bacchanalian feast, drawing upon seasonal produce and premium spirits, with signatures including the Abruzzo, a bright, citrus-forward concoction that brings to mind the coastline, with its mix of Malfy blood orange gin, orange vermouth, nocino, orange oil, and walnut smoke. The Campania is thick on fruity hits, with big notes of rinquinquin, lemon, giffard peach, and hopped-grapefruit bitters. And the Genovese – focused around blanco tequila, cucumber, basil, lime and agave – speaks to the pleasant, easygoing climes of the Ligurian capital.
For those wishing to fly even deeper into Sparrow’s menu, there’s a citrus olive-oil cake; a zeppole moistened with nutella ganache caramel sauce and sweet whipped ricotta; and a cannoli boosted with candied blood orange – the coterie of live musicians and DJs simply add further flavour to the spirited occasion.
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