Enzo Cecconi was the youngest-ever general manager of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice. The young man’s fancy, however, soon turned from the lagoon to London, where he opened Cecconi’s in 1978. The Winter of Discontent may have been about to blow in, but at least Londoners could finally get a decent beef carpaccio.
Like the city Enzo left behind, Cecconi’s became famous for being ruinously expensive, which only intensified the jet-set allure of a restaurant where Michael Winner dined with Faye Dunaway and the signature dish was Alba white truffle risotto. (Is it too much to hope that Dunaway whipped out the food scales she famously kept in her handbag and weighed out the shavings of the world’s most precious tuber?) Enzo’s restaurant closed in 1999 but his mellifluous surname lived on under new owners Soho House, which bought Cecconi’s in 2004.
Lobster spaghetti at Cecconis
Cecconi’s has been a good investment for the members’ club behemoth. You will now find a Cecconi’s in Barcelona, Berlin, Istanbul, Miami, New York, West Hollywood and in The Ned in the City of London. The stealth-wealth locations make a classy change from the restaurant groups that wantonly follow the big money to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai and Shanghai, but it does make me wonder why Soho House Toronto missed out. Is Cecconi’s too cool for Canada?
Venice might be many wonderful things, but Italy’s culinary capital it ain’t, which is why Cecconi’s has always been more about the mood than the food. With the Royal Academy of Arts over the road, the galleries of Cork Street round the corner and a hedge fund hanging from every nearby office, Cecconi’s is one of the very few restaurants where culture and commerce feed in perfect symbiosis. It is ferociously glamorous and unashamedly frivolous – there’s Prosecco on tap – the sort of place to forget about the world without forgetting how fabulous you look.
Cecconis Mayfair, ‘ferociously glamorous and unashamedly frivolous… the sort of place to forget about the world without forgetting how fabulous you look’
Which isn’t to say that you won’t eat well here. Cacio e pepe is made with tangy pecorino and al dente tonnarelli, each snapping with equal bite, while vitello tonnato is based around a gentle-tasting tuna mayo that won’t come back to haunt you.
And at a time when every Italian menu is Puglian this and Umbrian that, there’s an unreconstructed charm to a veal Milanese that manspreads over the whole plate, or profiteroles sandwiched with pistachio ice cream and drowned in hot sauce: Death in Venice by way of death by chocolate.
Cecconi’s newest iteration is Cecconi’s Pizza Bar, which opened last week on Old Compton Street beneath the original Soho House. Pizza’s spiritual home is rough-and-ready Naples – but give me the glittering artifice of Venice any day. With the revamped RA now open, you can even pretend you’re visiting the Accademia and not the Royal Academy afterwards.
WHO TO TAKE: Your art dealer and fund manager.
WHAT TO ORDER: Prosecco and cicchetti at the bar is as much fun as you can have in Mayfair.