This review was originally published in July 2017. Theo’s Simple Italian closed for business in 2021.
Theo’s Simple Italian (hereafter, TSI) is the younger sibling of “big” Theo on Park Lane – one of my favourite London restaurants. Comparing the two would always be seductive. What came to light was a set of noticeable differences (mainly for the worse), with the odd bit of satisfyingly common ground.
TSI’s home is the relatively insipid Hotel Indigo on Barkston Gardens. Oddly, the restaurant’s exterior betrays the mundanity of its landlord, owing to the pistachio-ice-cream-coloured awning and dazzingly white façade. With the cluster of trendy lights glinting in the street-side bay window, it’s an inviting proposition.
the wine list is woefully short – bearing only a handful of wines, all no older than 2012 (insert sad face emoji)
Inside, the furnishings and mood lend a sort of upscale café look. The décor is minimalistic and, dare I say, simple. Light colours in the wall paint and floor tiles convey hygiene and cleanliness. TSI’s dining space is definitely brighter than the average restaurant, though the lighting is still subtle and unobtrusive. Come 9pm, said lighting is dimmed slightly, as if intentionally hailing the transition from espresso bar to nightspot.
I found the service at TSI informal and attentive, resembling yet again the café mood. I was given carte blanche on seating and there was no delay in sorting water, wine and the same hearty focaccia bread as that presented at big Theo. The food menu is interesting and staunchly Italian. However, the wine list is woefully short – bearing only a handful of wines, all no older than 2012 (insert sad face emoji). This would turn out to be the greatest difference between the two Theos. I settled on a 2013 Vajra Barolo at £50; its berry fruit notes and balanced acidity creating a reasonable dinner accompaniment.
Before long, I was tucking into duck and porcini agnolotti. The pasta itself was eggy and firm; the sauce a mushroom fricassee hue and gorgeously rich. What a dish – and as divine as the pasta at big Theo. Shrewd Londoners would do well to seek out this heavenly scoff at TSI and pay quite a bit less for it than they would at big Theo (though the wider experience at big Theo does merit dining there).
A main of pork T-bone with caponata was a real downer after the lip-smacking agnolotti. While not terrible, the pork was dry and the fat could not be eaten. After the pasta, which made my taste buds dance the tarantella, the flaws in the pork were glaring. The consolation prize was a side of zucchini fritti that, thankfully, was faultless.
The tiramisu dessert on which I ended did not make for a high note. I rated the consistency; my spoon making concave hollows in the mid layer of the sweet – but there was virtually no flavour of coffee. Plus, those without the kind of respiratory cycle control possessed by experienced divers will probably choke on the cocoa powder. I’d never seen such a thick layer of it.
How much a diner will get out of TSI will depend on where they place their emphasis. The room is fresh and air-conditioned. Everything sets up for a pleasurable couple of hours of sitting around. It’s also affordable-ish, by west London standards – my bill that night coming in at less than half the price of three courses and wine at big Theo.
TSI has its virtues, even if they appear among a number of culinary defects. If revisiting, I’d probably confine my meal to a bottle of Peroni and a bowl of that delicious pasta.
34-44 Barkston Gardens
34-44 Barkston Gardens
by C Ley