From the outside, and indeed the website, Babbo looks like the sort of place that people come to for reasons other than the food. When you walk in, you find everything that you expect from an idealised Italian restaurant: the charismatic maitre, the simple, slightly kitschy décor, and a relatively lively atmosphere.
Where things start being unusual for the UK is when the food starts appearing. Chef Carlo Scotto is someone who knows what he is doing, and has no qualms when it comes to talking about the qualities of his cuisine, and products. The nice thing about this is that most of what he talks about actually finds its exposition in the food he serves.
What he serves is simple, uncomplicated, flavour-packed Italian food. It is not based on any particular regional specialities, but combines a majority of Italian products in ways that make them stand out. The result can be something such as a wild trout with pine nuts, and broad beans. The trout is cooked in the pan, until the skin crisps up, and served with the combination of beans and pine nuts that work beautifully with the delicately flavoured meat. This is not cooking that tries hard to be innovative or complex, but delivers on bold flavours and good quality ingredients.
Similarly, a beef Rossini is based on Piedmontese Fassone beef, which is served with pan-fried foie gras, and spinach. Whilst there are no truffles in this version of the dish, the beef is of good quality and well-timed. The result is meat that is succulent and tender, with a fine flavour that makes Fassone stand out. Unfortunately the foie gras is not quite of the highest quality, and is served as a piece that is ultimately too thin to be successfully pan-fried.
A delicious primo is the risotto with asparagus, goat’s cheese, and pea shoots. The degree of cooking of the rice here is what makes this perfect. The grains still have enough bite to remind you of them being rice, and the flavours are clear, crisp, and come through beautifully.
Babbo is a simple restaurant. It has no ambitions of getting Michelin stars or the like. What it does is serve carefully prepared, tasty Italian food of a quality that is usually not found in the UK in restaurants of this kind. For that alone, it is worth visiting.