The latest restaurant from the multi-award winning and family-run San Carlo Group serves authentic Italian dishes in a sophisticated and effortlessly elegant setting at reasonable prices. Cicchetti's Knightsbridge location is the third in London, after Piccadilly and Covent Garden, and the fourth in the UK.
Opened in May, Cicchetti's extensive menu from chef Andrea Parente bursts with freshly prepared plates using ingredients sourced from Italy’s best artisan producers.
In keeping with the restaurant’s name, many of the dishes are designed for sharing and feature all the Cicchetti classics alongside seasonal specials and new dishes for the Knightsbridge venue.
What to expect and where to sit
Handily for hungry shoppers, this Cicchetti outpost is opposite the side entrance of luxury department store Harrods. Flanking the restaurant are benches with small tables covered by a merry red-and-white-striped awning. Spread across two floors, the restaurant was designed by London studio Fettle and is inspired by classical Venetian architecture.
A host greets patrons at the door, ready to usher them past the visibly abundant floor-to-ceiling bar through to the main dining area. Wood-panelled walls ― a nod to the luxury yachts synonymous with the Veneto region ― coral-coloured marbled tables and leather armchairs make for a sophisticated dining experience while the abstract modern paintings and art deco mirrored ceilings give the space a contemporary feel.
The elegant informality is best illustrated by the casual attire of most diners when my dining partner and I visit, in contrast to the dapper gold waistcoats and bow ties worn by the waiting staff. Most of the seating options are round or square tables ideal for four persons, the perfect countertop for a dining concept built around sharing plates. For bigger crowds, there is a private room that seats up to 18, and comes with mirrored walls, sparkling chandeliers and a collection of contemporary art to provide diners with style and exclusivity.
Cicchetti’s is all about sharing and the A3-sized menu is packed with dishes in different categories. For appetisers, we chose beef carpaccio and fried calamari. Topped with rocket and Parmesan, the beef is light but full of flavour and comes in perfectly pink wafer-thin slices that melt in the mouth. The calamari is very fresh, but a little too discreet on flavour to be worth the calories that come with fried food. Douse the dish with a few more wedges of lemon if you're a sucker for squid.
Not generally a fan of aubergine, I nevertheless order the Sicilian dish melanzane parmigiana, which chef Parente says is a Cicchetti classic. Fortunately, it is delicious enough to make me reconsider my natural aversion to the vegetable. Coated in melted cheese and encased in a divine tomato sauce, it deserves all the praise it gets.
Next comes a perfectly crunchy-skinned sea bass fillet over “broccoli from southern Italy”, which actually looks and tastes more like a slightly bitter spinach.
The veal pan-fried in breadcrumbs follows, and is masterfully made and a much larger portion than I expected for a sharing plate. It is a bit undressed and comes without a side accompaniment; however, there are plenty of side options you can order to fix that.
The emphasis on quality ingredients and simple cooking is well executed and perfect for a range of palates. Still, there were times when I craved a little more zest in the dishes, and rectified this with an extra dash of salt, pepper and fresh chilli peppers. The sharing concept helps avoid food envy, but the portions are rather large, so keep that in mind if you are not too hungry.
We end the meal with the popular and decadent black truffle and ricotta ravioli. Sumptuously creamy, it caps off a superbly well-rounded meal and almost sends us over the edge of comfort. Luckily, we save some room for dessert.
We try the chef’s “absolute favourite” home-made tiramisu, a bowl of rich creamy comfort that can easily send you to sleep. The panna cotta with raspberry coulis is a lighter version of the milky dessert with an equal burst of flavour.
A chat with the chefs
Nicola Cicco, 32, was born in the city of Andria in the southern Italian agricultural region of Puglia, famous for its olives, almonds and burrata cheese. He started his culinary career at San Carlo restaurants when he was 19 and has risen through the ranks to become the chain's development chef.
Cicco says his go-to ingredient is burrata Pugliese, which he calls the “creamiest, freshest and most versatile cheese”. The delicacy’s enduring popularity with Cicchetti’s diners has made it a staple in all the restaurants.
Chef Parente, in turn, describes his cooking style as authentic yet simple, and says he tends to stay away from overcomplicating the dishes, so that every ingredient is “the star of the show because this is how Italian food should be”.
For vegetarians, Parente recommends the classic melanzane marmigiana, while meat lovers will enjoy the “simple and delightful” lamb cutlets, marinated in sun-dried tomato and thyme. Seafood lovers should make a beeline for the lobster pasta dish. As for the dessert, Parente says the tiramisu is a dish of “pure comfort and my absolute favourite”.
The menu features four plant-based dishes, including spaghetti puttanesca and Portobello mushroom with truffled breadcrumbs.
Price point and contact information
Starters, including salads and breads, range from $6 (for the olives and tapenade with Sardinian flat bread), to $19 (for the crab and avocado appetiser). Pastas and pizzas go from $9 (for the fried panzerotto Pugliese with San Marzano sauce) to $21 for the lobster tagliolini. Mains are split between meat and seafood, and range from $11 (for the Tuscan fennel sausage) to $28 (for the fillet of beef tagliata).
For reservations, visit sancarlo.co.uk/restaurants/cicchetti-knightsbridge-london/.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant