Ilia is the gloriously glossy canteen in Brompton Cross, where you should go for the people watching as much as the food. The experience is pure Italian theatre. From the moment we walked in, great whoops of Buon giorno and kisses on hands and up the arms were given to the ladies, while the men were disappointed to just receive a nod. Our table was in the middle of the restaurant where we could survey all that was going on around us, aided by the large windows that run round the sides of the room of this corner restaurant making it pleasingly light and airy.
The menu is large, some say confusing, but you can get to grips with the delicacies on offer pretty quickly. This is one of the wonders of Ilia – you can order just about any Italian dish you could wish for; it’s all there. While I wrestled with indecision, the Ferrari-red meat slicer was put into action, carving a mound of silky slithers of San Daniele ham and salume that we devoured before our guests arrived!
All the ingredients are sourced from Italy and even the most simple hams, cheese, olive oil, tomatoes and peppers tasted like the exquisite little offerings from the gods as they were intended to be.
Once we had all arrived – six of us in total – we had waiters and waitresses pirouetting around our table pouring wine, taking orders and generally making us feel like we were the most important people in the restaurant that night (although it seems they did that for everyone).
We all had burrata (cream filled mozzarella) with various accompaniments for a starter. If, like me, you are a fan of cheese, this is a near religious experience. Perhaps the most luscious and creamy savoury treat of epic proportions – some salt, pepper and olive oil is all that is needed – but was offered with San Daniele ham, peppers or prawns. I believe this velvety, cheesy champion should be eaten by itself – you won’t regret it.
For our main course we indulged in some of the impressive pasta offerings including trofie (small rolled pasta) with bacon and cuttlefish, pappardelle with wild-boar ragu and linguine with basil pesto. We each claimed ours as the best, and my trofie was perfect savoury comfort food that jumped up and down in my mouth. The veal chop was charred on the outside and perfectly pink and juicy within, while the beef carpaccio was declared ‘as good as it gets.’
Having fed so well, pudding wasn’t possible, although many said that Zuppa Inglese (English trifle) was a fine sweet treat to have with your vino santo.
Ilia will no doubt become the favourite neighbourhood Italian restaurant for those who live in Chelsea and South Kensington, and although it has been open less than a year, many restaurant-goers looked as though they had been there many times. True to its name, Ilia is the mother of all Italians and I recommend eating from her table very soon.