Parmesan custard arancini with hazelnuts and piquilo pepper ketchup, charred pear with whipped pecorino, smoked eel with salsa verde and soft shell crab served with a dollop of Amalfi lemon and garlic aioli.
If indulgence is the order of the day get yourself down to the newly opened Four to Eight, a former sandwich shop that has been transformed by its owners into a smart Italian eatery. Brothers Gino and Leo Zambito, born in London to Sicilian parents, opened Four to Eight just eight weeks ago on the very spot of their former sandwich shop, “Gino and Franco”. The result of a life-long dream, the restaurant’s seemingly obtuse name refers to their belief that it only takes four to eight ingredients to make great Italian dishes. Good to know. Located in the heart of Covent Garden, where tourists are ten-a-penny and restaurants can afford to rely on walk-ins, I arrived with a curious eye wondering if I would find ‘just another London restaurant’, or something to write home about. Pleasingly, it was the latter. Just seven weeks after opening the restaurant was almost full to capacity when we arrived, and deservedly so.
Dimly lit with exposed brick walls, floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the buzz of theatre-land and old school jazz playing in the background, it’s lively but far from hectic. Split across two floors with room for 100 covers, its dining room is centred around a perspex wine cellar with tables nestled cosily around a central bar. Boasting a menu teeming with the promise of culinary finesse, an in-house sommelier, a rotating list of 25 wines by the glass, not to mention reasonable prices, I had high hopes. Keen to test drive its drinks menu, my partner and I ordered two cocktails; The Godfather, a blend of the sweet Italian liqueur Amaretto with Makers Mark Bourbon; and First Crush, a blend of Beefeater gin, Figue liqueur and Moscato d’Asti. Priced at £8.50, both were well balanced with the sweetness of the amaretto not overpowering the bourbon. First Big Crush meanwhile should be reserved for those with a sweet tooth and a particular penchant for sherbet; it reminded me of sucking on a dib dab. Heading up the kitchen is Chris Denney, a British chef who has worked with the likes of Nuno Mendes and Phil Howard from The Square, who holds a particular penchant for Italian cuisine having spent a year living in Piedmont.
Eager to get stuck into its selection of drool-inducing small plates, Arancini (£6), soft shell crab with Amalfi lemon and garlic aioli (£10) and cured red mullet with tonnato, treviso and crispy artichoke (£8) soon filled our table. The Arancini deserves a particular mention; oozing with the restaurant’s self-styled “parmesan custard” it was like eating fluffy balls of heaven, set off perfectly by a dash of piquillo pepper ketchup. For the main event, I chose the fish of the day (£16); whole seabass with a salsa verde dressing and fennel salad and homemade gnocci. The fish was delicate and light with its zingy dressing and sweet peppers transporting me back to summer 2014, on what was otherwise a gloomy winter evening. My partner meanwhile plumped for the melt-in-the mouth tasty salt marsh lamb leg with caponata, mint and basil (£14) with a side of oregano, salt and paprika fries (£4). A winning combination.
With our meal we enjoyed a glass of German Pinot Noir from Weingut Claus Schneider (£6) – a 2011 Spatburgunder Weiler Schlipf from Baden – a delicate wine with a herbaceous character and notes of tobacco. The restaurant’s in-house sommelier, Patrick Niddrie-Webb, was keen to emphasise the restaurant’s focus on wine, which number 100 including 25 wines sold by the glass. “We want our selection to be really broad and international”, he explained. “People walk into Italian restaurants expecting Italian wines, which we have, but we wanted good wines from other areas as well.” As such, its lists features a wide selection from countries including Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Argentina, Portugal, the US, Australia and France. Despite being full to bursting we ploughed on to sample the dessert menu picking the Amalfi lemon tart with a raspberry sorbet and the opera cake with ricotta ice cream, both £7, courtesy of the restaurant’s in-house pastry chef Anabelle Delrieux. Rounding off our meal, we indulged in a glass of Donnafugata’s Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria – a surprisingly fresh sweet Sicilian wine with notes of dried fruit and apricot. While your choice of restaurant in Covent Garden and indeed London is undoubtedly endless, I would highly recommend giving this fledgling eatery a look in.
It’s the kind of place you might drop in for a glass of wine and a bowl of smoked almonds and end up staying for three courses and a bottle. While still in its infancy it shows real promise as a hip hangout, and one capable of segueing from a candlelit soirée for two to a casually sophisticated party for 10 with aplomb.
Four to Eight, 1-5 Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JZ, Tel: 020 7240 0664