Stecca may be brand new but technically it already has a history – its predecessor, Toto’s in Knightsbridge, was one of Palate’s favourite Italian restaurants in London. Its closure in 2016 was heartbreaking – a real loss to the London dining scene. So, imagine our delight when this year it rose from the ashes in the form of Stecca, not so far away from the original Toto’s site, in a new, more compact venue.
The hands-on chef patron, Stefano Stecca, was on site when we visited within a month of its opening, busy taking photos for the website and dealing with any remaining snags (though there were none to be seen): a charming Italian man with a commanding presence, he engaged in conversation with us but seemed cagey about what happened to Toto’s. Probably a sore subject so we left it and got on with lunch, a competently-made Aperol Spritz starting proceedings.
The restaurant has been designed in a minimalist style, with careful thought given to table spacing and comfort: the bi-fold windows at the front and the garden at the back allow for a beautiful blow-through of air, and the garden itself, whilst small, provides an al fresco option. One work of modern art was intriguing: with the blue, grey and white brushstrokes, it looked almost like a wheat field. Perhaps the artist was channelling Theresa May’s childhood.
The menu is short but sweet – a simpler, pared-down version of Toto’s offering, keeping to one page yet still running the gamut of Italian classics, with the occasional guest appearance of something much closer to home (e.g. Devon crab). However, the price point is a little on the dear side for what is actually served. My colleague reminded me this is indeed Chelsea and the rates alone will do this.
That being said, the food itself was sound as a bell. I was a little concerned that my primi of pappardelle with veal and white ragu was unavailable, but at least the staff were up front about this and replaced it with a similarly-priced Bolognese-style ragu, which was executed very well, if a touch salty. My colleague’s tagliatelle was heady with mushroominess, and a decent portion at that. As for secondi my colleague’s veal chop was equally cooked very well, as was my chicken (served simply with potatoes and lemon) though the dish itself was unremarkable – just, er, chicken and potatoes. This isn’t fancy cooking by any stretch of the imagination – it’s actually what you expect of a traditional Italian, and to that extent I applaud them for having no delusions or pretentious aspirations. But I will say the dessert selection is very light and my colleague and I were both concerned about how they keep their red wine: seeing a top-of-the-range Taurasi and some fabulous Super Tuscans just left out on the counter at room temperature in the height of summer is troubling, to say the least. These should be kept in a cooler or they will be ruined.
Overall, it’s a good neighbourhood Italian. If I’m honest I probably wouldn’t make a special trip just to come here but if I was in the area it would be at the top of my go-to list.
14 Hollywood Road
by J A Smith