Launched in February of this year, Ritorno London sits on one of Chelsea’s most famous thoroughfares, the King’s Road. Simon Wittenberg went along to enjoy an evening at the new Italian restaurant.
Ritorno has brought an authentic Italian aperitivo experience to London. This 80-cover eatery primarily caters for people who are looking to have a cocktail and some small “tapas”-style dishes to stave off any hunger during a night out, rather than those wanting to sit down for a leisurely and substantial three-course meal. Principally attracting clientele from the surrounding community, and staffed by Italians, the Ritorno concept is more bar than restaurant and is indeed pretty casual. The décor is quite dark with illuminated pillars and flatscreen TVs, and visitors are serenaded with lounge music to achieve a relaxed “going out” vibe.
Ritorno prides itself on its cocktails, and this is the domain of Head Barman, Paolo Viola, formerly of the Rivoli Bar at The Ritz. When you glance at the neatly arranged bottles of alcohol behind the bar, not many will be familiar, and this is because this restaurant wants to be different. They source them from Italy as opposed to reaching for the more mainstream names. Also, instead of pairing a food dish to a beverage, Ritorno does it the other way around – they pick the cocktail first and then match it to what’s on the menu – an interesting concept.
Like the comprehensive selection of wine, the cocktail list is extensive and is divided into different categories. Each is made right in front of you, and it’s a joy to watch, as the two bartenders put on a theatrical and entertaining display as if to signal that something special is on the way. From the “Poetic Regional” section, I sampled the magnificent “Piemonte” (£13.50) which was made with Naked Grouse Whisky washed in Gianduiotto hazelnut chocolate from Northern Italy, Vermouth Rosso Torino del Professore, vanilla bitters and garnished with thin shavings of Gianduiotto. It was finished with a sizeable chunk of ice in the centre of the glass which had been freshly carved from the block, and cinnamon sticks were then set alight on the black slate on which the drink was sitting to resemble a cosy fireplace.
A fan of gin, my guest enjoyed the equally inspiring “Lady Giulia” (£12.50) from the “Bollicine” category which uses one of the six Italian gins stocked by Ritorno, raspberry shrub, Prosecco, green tea and mint air to create a frothy top layer.
On to the food, which is prepared by a three-man team on the lower ground floor, Ritorno offers over 40 small plates (Cicchetti) created using the highest quality and produce. Our host was very attentive to our specific dietary requirements and made some good recommendations as to what we could have. The dishes are made to share, so if you do decide to stay there for a large portion of the evening, you need to order around five to six different plates between you to satisfy a decent appetite. There are no starters and mains here, and all the plates largely came together – hot or cold.
After being suitably impressed by the chef’s welcome of fresh focaccia and frittata, we chose the homemade artisan bread basket (£3.50), and being a lover of cheese (it’s the perfect place to indulge here), I headed for the “Parmigiana In Crosta Di Pane” (£10.50) which translated as melted parmesan and aubergine in a tomato sauce which was all bound together in a thick bread crust – it was absolutely delicious.
The same went for the very generous, rich and creamy portion of burrata (£9.00), which came with a flavoursome white wine vinegar marinated green courgette purée and fresh mint. From the fish and seafood category, the tuna tartare with avocado cream and crispy polenta (£12.00), was a firm favourite, so smooth that it just glided down the palate, and I could have easily eaten a few of these, it was just that good. Another vegetable dish that we also tried and devoured with ease was the carefully layered courgette, potato, aubergine and porcini mushroom terrine.
Opting for some meat, my partner was sold on the perfectly prepared roasted quail, crispy potato, orange sauce (£11.00), but the real stand out creation for her was the pan-fried Milanese saffron risotto with potted Ossobuco (£11.50) where three pieces of tender veal sat on a round bed of saffron infused rice. This proved to be a truly delightful recipe.
Dessert is always the time to find that last gap in your stomach to fill it with something sweet, and it was difficult to turn down the offer of a generous portion of rich and tasty amaretti tiramisu (£8.50). With no dairy free alternatives available, my guest enjoyed one of the non-alcoholic cocktails, and it capped off what had been a sumptuous gastronomic experience. The word “ritorno” translates into English as “going back”, and that’s definitely what I will be doing next time I’m in Chelsea…
Ritorno London – Where and How?
Ritorno London is located at 442 King’s Road, Chelsea, London SW10 0LQ, UK
To make a reservation, visit www.ritorno.co.uk or call 020 3301 6333.
Ritorno London welcomes guests seven days a week:
Monday – Saturday lunch: 12 – 3pm
Monday – Saturday dinner: 6pm – 12.30am
Sunday brunch: 12 – 4pm
Sunday dinner: 6 – 10pm