CLASSICAL Italian dishes injected with fresh influences is how head chef Lukas Pfaff describes his version of modern Italian cooking at Il Convivio, Ebury Street, London, owned by Enzo and Piero Quaradeghini - also responsible for London restaurants Zucatto and Artigiano.
Dishes being served at the 65-seat restaurant, which opened four weeks ago, are updated versions of what Pfaff calls "poor" Italian dishes. He uses both expensive and cheap ingredients - a combination that helps keep evening prices at £17.50, £20 and £23 for two, three and four courses, respectively. Lunch is slightly cheaper.
To illustrate his cooking, Pfaff, originally from the Black Forest and who later moved to Italy, points to an evening main course of pigeon. The pot-roast Tuscan pigeon served with soft polenta and a blackberry and onion sauce (£2 supplement) combines polenta, traditionally an Italian peasant ingredient, with the expensive bird, while the sauce adds a modern twist.
The pigeon is imported from Italy, as are most of the ingredients for both the lunch and dinner menus, which are split into six antipasti, two soups, seven pasta, five fish and five meat dishes. Rice, chicken, eggs and flour come from Italy and help give an authentic flavour to dishes created by Pfaff and his kitchen team of six.
Using Italian eggs helps enhance the appearance of the pasta made in-house by the brigade, says Pfaff. While there is no difference in taste, Pfaff says yolks from Italian eggs are yellower, giving the pasta a brighter colour. One pasta dish he is particularly proud of is egg pasta parcels filled with braised veal, served with a wild mushroom and thyme sauce. The parcels resemble a cockscomb, and Pfaff believes no one else in London is doing anything similar. The sauce is kept as light as possible so as not to overpower the dish.
In fact, lightness is a recurring theme on the menu, which Pfaff anticipates will change seasonally. "I don't use cream or butter very often. In northern Italy they use a lot of butter, while southern Italians concentrate more on olive oil," he says. A sautéd gilthead fillet with Mediterranean vegetables in a light olive oil sauce follows this philosophy.
Pfaff may strive to give his diners genuine Italian food, but he still has to bow to the British palate. Marinated salmon on a Tuscan potato cake with rocket salad and lemon vinaigrette is one concession he has had to make. "Italians wouldn't eat the potato cake with salmon, but you have to have smoked salmon somewhere on a British menu - it's expected."
Diners, currently averaging 50 per evening, are looked after by restaurant manager Lorenzo Mosca and his six-strong front of house team. n
Il Convivio, 143 Ebury Street, London SW1W 9QN. Tel: 0207 703 4099