Eating on: 17th July 2010
Eating with: Family
I was beginning to think it was just me but for the last couple of months the service I have received going out for meals has been truly indifferent. It was getting to the point where I was struggling to remember going out to eat and enjoying both the food and the restaurant I was eating in. Sometimes I was lucky to enjoy just the food. I can think of two notable exceptions this year, Whits in Kensington being one of them. However, that was before this weekend. Things were looking up last week at Masala Zone, really friendly service though not the best food in the world. But in the end the whole thing felt a little scripted and by the book, rather than from the heart. Plus the thali I had was not as good as Woodlands, the whole thing felt more ready meal than made to order. The restaurant was also a little empty which did not add to the atmosphere. Last weekend was the chance for a nice family meal, the last of which was at one of my exceptions to the rule for great food this year, a small Italian restaurant round the corner from me, which one from the chain of three I forget!!
We arrive at Nuovi Sapori around 7pm, the restaurant was completely open at the front, perfect for a nice summer's evening. Thanks to our early reservation we had a great table right in the middle of the room, perfect to soak up the atmosphere that would build during our meal. The restaurant manager greeted us and made us feel comfortable right away. Menus and ample time given, no concept to explain, the option of pre-meal drinks but politely declined so that we could balance our wine with our meal. So far so good. We placed our order and when the wine arrived (a nice fruity Pinot Grigio) we were also served some bread with a sundried tomato tapenade. Starters were ordered: mozzarella with parma ham, melon and parma ham, warm avocado with crab, and mussels filled with crispy bacon and avocado (the specific stuffing for the mussels escapes my mind). The food was nice and hot (except the melon!) and came quickly. By observation the timings seemed around the same for other guests, even as the place got busier. The meal was off to a good start, the portions were just about the right size and we were all looking forward to the main course.
Throughout our meal staff were on hand all the time and were continually watching (non-intrusively) to make sure our glasses were filled with water/wine and that we were enjoying ourselves. The atmosphere from the staff was that they were happy to be at work, and that they could see whether or not you were enjoying your meal rather than, as you suspect in many places, it's just in the handbook to go and ask, with the expectation that the customer says "fine, thanks". The whole thing was thanks to a fantastic restaurant manager that truly led from the front allowing the team to be themselves with customers, in all, very impressive on the service front.
A short, but needed wait for the mains followed. We ordered two different takes on veal, both served with rosemary potatoes (a touch underdone but not swimming in olive oil, thank goodness), a very good sized chicken dish served on mash potatoes and a seafood risotto. Again, all food was cooked well, served nicely and simply and just the right amount. There was plenty of banter with the restaurant manager to make sure we were happy, time for a pause and then dessert. We had tiramisu, pancakes and panna cotta, again, with appropriate break between the end of the main course before the dessert came. I think we needed the time to soak up that second bottle of wine. Before leaving the restaurant manager came over to offer us a grappa (on the house) and made sure we left with a smile on our faces, but also in need of the cup of coffee that was awaiting us at home!
Did Nuovi Sapori have the best food ever, the most original concept, the most fancy decor? Not at all. The food was just above average, the decor was plain, there was no fancy concept. So why does this place work so well? One really easy answer comes to mind, this restaurant seemed to have one simple philosophy, "what can we do to make our customers happy?" I know I would be happy to return again, even if I was paying the bill this time round!