Simon Wittenberg visits the Italian side of the famed Novikov Restaurant & Bar on London’s Berkeley Street for an exquisite end-of-week à la carte lunch.
Novikov Restaurant & Bar opened in London in 2011 and was the first international venture of the Russian entrepreneur Arkady Novikov after successfully building a restaurant group in his native country. The renowned Novikov empire has since expanded across the globe, with locations spanning Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to the island of Ibiza.
Over the last decade or so, the eatery, which sits on the corner of where Berkeley Street and Mayfair Place converge, a stone’s throw from 1 Hotel Mayfair and The Ritz London, Novikov has established itself as one of the places to be seen.
It’s frequented by the likes of Premier League footballers and a whole host of celebrities, with Tom Cruise, Prince Harry and Novak Djokovic just a few of the famous faces to have passed through this venue’s doors.
The vast space at 50A Berkeley Street that Novikov occupies can accommodate 540 covers across two restaurants offering Asian cuisine (just inside the main entrance) and Italian gastronomy on the lower ground floor.
Below that, in the ‘basement’ is the ‘Lounge Bar’, which has an extensive cocktail menu and entertainment coming courtesy of some of the world’s top DJs.
The subject of our review was Novikov Italian Restaurant, which is reached by descending a small staircase, meaning this eatery is situated away from any prying eyes from passers-by at street level, so it’s no wonder that the ‘great and the good’ wish to congregate there.
Guests are greeted by a floor-to-ceiling display of hundreds of wine bottles, as well as a temperature-controlled wine room to preserve the character of the more revered varieties before being welcomed by an inviting light, open and airy setting, which is peppered with trees in large pots.
In fact, the décor, which is completely different from the darker and more wooden Asian restaurant up above, was conceived by the Moscow-based Geometry Design, and it has made for an elegant environment that gives diners a taste of the Mediterranean, an ambience amplified through an open kitchen counter complete with a pizza oven, and furnished with a colourful display of fresh fish and seafood on ice, fruit, vegetables, swirls of pasta, and freshly-baked bread that you would readily come across in a quintessentially Italian village market.
Although this restaurant can accommodate around 200 diners at any one time, pretty much around the clock, it is laid out in a way that still gives visitors an element of privacy without any element of intrusion from adjacent tables.
When at Novikov for lunch, there’s a choice of either picking from the main and extensive à la carte, or from the set menu, which is reasonably priced for this part of town. With there being such a large selection, this makes for some tough decision-making, with entrées supplying a myriad of seafood, marine, and cheese dishes.
There is, nevertheless, help on hand from the very personable team to guide you through what’s on offer as one peruses over a box of light and fluffy fresh bread, wafer-thin bread crisps doused in oil, and breadsticks, to get the taste buds going.
For my starter, I headed for the relatively dense but sumptuously smooth Blue Fin tuna tartare (£30) garnished with a few leaves and a sizeable slice of lemon. It had a salty edge to it but was packed full of flavour, and coupled with some of Novikov’s fresh bread, this was a superb starter.
My dining partner tried the mixed salad with autumn vegetables (£20), and the ingredients were so fresh that it was as if they had come straight to the plate from the local market. In fact, produce stems from Suffolk, thanks to Novikov teaming up with the Brent Eleigh Walled Garden in the eastern county.
As you would imagine from this kind of establishment, the drinks menu is significant, with an equally impressive wine list to accommodate the many bottles available at Novikov.
Overlooking the recently unveiled L’Or de Jean Martell cognac, retailing at £660 per shot, we opted for a couple of the comparably more affordable mocktails at £15 each. I tried ‘Eros’ – served in a champagne coupe, centred around homemade strawberry syrup, several juices, and peppercorn, with gold powder for the garnish.
My dining partner opted for the vibrant blue ‘Aladdin’, inspired by the iconic film, where dry ice creates swirls of smoke to recreate the genie emerging from the lamp, and where the concoction of apple juice, blue curacao, eggnog, egg white, and lemon juice, is poured into an awaiting ice-laden glass.
This eclectic and entertaining recipe delivers a refreshing beverage and was so good we opted for a second.
When it comes to the mains, there’s a substantial selection of pasta dishes, pizza, meat options, and, of course, fish and seafood. As you walk into Novikov, you can’t help but admire the catch of the day, with whole lobsters and fish to grab your attention, all labelled with their individual price tags.
One thing to bear in mind here is that the two sea bass options are to feed two people (hence the £125 cost), and they take a while to prepare.
However, for those guests looking to have something to themselves, there is a plethora of different varieties of fish, and my dining partner opted for salt-crusted sea bream (£80), which does require an element of time and patience, as this is an exquisite dish which is not quick to make.
The other benefit of opting for this ‘finish’ is the theatre delivered by Novikov, as the thick salt mound is tapped and knocked before revealing the whole fish, and another intricate skill – filleting and the art of presentation for the awaiting diner. Served with a side of spinach laced with garlic (£9), the white and light brown flesh bursts with taste, revealing the reason why it commands the price tag that it does.
I headed for the equally impressive Dover sole meuniere (shown above and priced at £65), also taken off the bone by our skilled hosts and doused with a splash of rich buttery lemon sauce and capers to create utter perfection.
Having also wanted to try the Tonnarelli pasta (£27 per person), this was served as a smaller side, much to my delight. It really is a feast for the senses, as half a cheese wheel of parmesan is brought out on a trolley, and colourless and flavourless alcohol perched on the top of the spoon is then set alight to melt the top layer of cheese.
This is then scraped aside and mixed with the awaiting pasta to create a tasty creamy cheese sauce, which binds together to create a filling and wholesome dish – a ‘must-do’ for cheese lovers.
Feeling full at this stage but not bursting at the seams, dessert was still beckoning. There’s an array of sweets and hot beverages on offer, including the likes of Tiramisu and chocolate lava cake.
With just a small pocket of space left, sharing was the answer here, and we settled on the profiteroles (£14), which looked a bit like Amaretti biscuits at first glance. Boasting a soft hazelnut centre and combining a spot of rich vanilla ice cream, it was delicious and a great end to what had been a truly superb meal.
With such a huge team devoted to its guests, the service provided at Novikov Italian Restaurant is a choreographed and well-oiled machine, ensuring the highest standards of service at all times.
Another added bonus is that the staff are such nice people to talk to – individuals with interesting backgrounds, and who clearly show a passion for what they do – vital ingredients for a personable and memorable experience, which is exactly what we received during our visit.
Novikov Italian Restaurant is rightly one of Mayfair’s most revered establishments and has the perfect formula of an exceptional experience, exquisite cuisine, and exemplary dining on one of London’s most prestigious streets.
It’s a meal full of surprise and gastronomic fanfare and with welcoming and attentive hospitality throughout, synonymous with Italian culture. Novikov deserves its status as a ‘must-visit’ restaurant, and it won’t take long before we’re back to enjoy more of what this eatery does best.
Novikov Restaurant & Bar – Where and How?
Novikov Restaurant & Bar is located at 50A Berkeley St, London W1J 8HA, United Kingdom. For more information or to make a reservation, visit www.novikovrestaurant.co.uk.
See video highlights of our visit to Novikov on the Luxurious Magazine Instagram page.