On a corner of North Audley Street in Mayfair is a sparkling new addition to Italian cuisine in London. As the name suggests, Banca is on the site of an old Natwest bank and is a considerably livelier venue now that a gifted Italian chef is in residence.
The space is a temple of Italian gastronomy, with gleaming chrome and glass fridges revealing the finest cured meats and salamis. Clearly Mayfair’s newest hip hang out, the bar was busy with people waiting for tables, and those just meeting for a bellini. The room offers many metres of shiny marble, glinting under huge contemporary wagon wheel chandeliers. Similar lights hang in Apsleys at The Lanesborough, and besides offering an irresistible opportunity for chandelier swinging, they look very cool indeed.
The menu offers such Italian greats as saffron risotto ‘al salto’ gratinee with Asiago cheese, buffalo mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and basil toast, deep fried courgette flowers stuffed with prawns served with spicy tomato sauce and smoked swordfish carpaccio with raspberry vinegar. Being one of the last days of summer we opted for a picnic style offering of prosciutto, salami and bresaola with pecorino cheese. These wafer thin slices of perfectly cured pig were excellent, compelling us to ask for more of the San Daniele ham.
There is plenty on the menu for meat lovers with main courses of chargrilled fillet of beef with foie gras and summer black truffle and roast piglet belly with potatoes millefeuille and Swiss chard. The seafood was royally represented by greats such as seared monkfish tail with guazzetto of mussels, broad beans and roasted peppers, and poached salted cod with chargrilled leek and taggiasca olives.
Following his summer office party, my dining companion had sampled many of London’s late night offerings the previous evening, so having demolished the bread basket in his weakened state, he demanded yet more carbohydrates. He chose the lobster and tomato spaghetti in an excellent tomato sauce. Declared ‘rich and fresh,’ the dish did a fine job of helping him on the road to recovery. My choice of the veal cutlet Milanese and sautéed mixed courgettes was a perfectly pink hunk of veal on the bone and covered in breadcrumbs, which will definitely be chosen again. A side order of deep fried courgette and carrots, however, almost stole the show – tiny deep-fried salty matchstick strands is the finest way to treat these vegetables. Delicious.
After pistachio ice cream, we finished the meal with twitch-inducing espressos. The marvellous experience was over far too quickly, which was partly down to our hunger but also due to the excellent staff. Bravo Banca!