Il Baretto is modern London and I hate myself for liking it.
Just like all my friends are people who didn’t get into Oxbridge, Il Baretto is where you go when you can’t get into the Chiltern Firehouse next door. The frumpy girl who laughs at your jokes after you embarrass yourself to her friend. Its customers are Tinder dates who were funnier over WhatsApp, awkward Americans in sports fleeces, and, as often as I can, me. We go for the opportunity to buy Jeff Brazier’s approximation of Sicilian high society, and the outside chance of seeing Vanessa Feltz or Kerry Katona.
When I went last, I met a friend – a lawyer who finally had nothing better to do – in the basement restaurant. The bar upstairs is fine (a Farrow and Ball blue with chairs), but the basement is where you want to be. I have a soft spot for its architecture, which complements lighting flattering enough for me to do an impression of someone good looking, but the pictures on the wall are a bit naff (the sort of thing someone who likes Ben Fogle would choose).
We meet an Italian girl who would never have spoken to us at school. She shows us to seats that are oddly close to the floor, and I feel like I’m at the children’s table of a wedding I wouldn’t be cool enough to attend otherwise.
Whatever, the menu (a sparse tour of Italy) changes reassuringly often. They serve it on so many different types and shapes of plates that we are surely dining in an Essex gastropub’s wet dream, but it suggests at least someone, somewhere, is trying. But maybe in the same way someone who uses comic sans is also trying.
We start with drinks from the first in a cast of waiters big enough for a Cecil B DeMille film. My friend tells me his negroni is very good.
The bread is a mixed bag. The focaccia does what I want, soaking up enough fat and salt to make me wonder if I actually like anything else, but the rest is no more than fine.
Our starters are better. I have beef carpaccio, my friend has swordfish tartare (which I was too awkward to try). The carpaccio is excellent – beef, capers, rocket, parmesan and barely anything else. I’m reminded of someone bland like James Martin saying that ingredients are all that count, but, when great ingredients are presented simply and sympathetically like this, I can’t argue.
Our main course is better again. I have a beef fillet, which tastes boring but is an excellent, obnoxious cut, my friend has lamb chops that are more interesting. We say how good it all is. What I really want to talk about though, is the zucchine fritte – battered and shredded courgettes that swap their weird, slimy moisture for a crisp, fatty hit of umami. Sometimes I just sit and think about them. I would go into war for them, and one day I will introduce them to my parents. You must come here, just to try them.
Il Bareto is a good, eccentric restaurant, which is not too far away from the best you can get without booking. But, just as “In England justice is open to all, like the Ritz hotel”, Il Bareto costs us close to £200 for not that much. It’s a stand against London’s creeping mediocrity, but only a stand if you can afford it. So maybe not much of a stand at all.
I want to give Il Baretto five stars, but I don’t want it to be the best I can get