Lovely Italian waiters, brylcreemed and clad in white.
From the moment you take your seat, you feel soothed. LIV is a soothing restaurant. It’s as comforting as a long hot soak in the bath, with luscious food that envelops you like a fluffy towel. And while ‘soothing’ was always a good thing for a restaurant to be, right now it’s appreciated all the more.
Words: Chris Zacharia
Antonino, our waiter, is excited. ‘I’m from Napoli’ he says, with classic regional pride, ‘and the pasta here is amazing. Really, really good. And we make the pasta fresh, every day, we make the bread fresh every day…’
Moments later focaccia and sourdough appear. One is savoury and crisp, the other pillowy and breeze-soft. Both are excellent, as is the accompanying butter.
With the basics taken care of, we can settle down to reading the menu. I love reading a menu. Especially one like this: something you would dearly love to eat is followed by teasing little qualifiers, so that each dish is a little poem of sensory anticipation. Rosemary tart, truffled ricotta, mushroom crema. Cured wild sea bass, green olive, preserved lemon. Tantalising glimpses, aren’t they?
Now LIV leaves the comfort zone. Both starters are subtle transformations on old favourites. Beef tartare is such an old dish, that it appears in a novel by Jules Verne. But here it’s something new. Made with Shorthorn beef, a soy-cured egg yolk and slices of pickled apple give it an Oriental umami twist. Beneath all of that is a toasted brioche, tempering the tanginess with a mellow touch of sweetness. For all those restaurants claiming to serve traditional European fare with a modern twist: this is how you do it.
If my tartare is a European dish with an Asian makeover, my partner’s is an Oriental dish in Western garments. Gyoza-esque prawn dumplings are quilt-soft, with a perfectly cooked prawn within. A mushroom broth featuring steamed leeks gives it an autumnal feel, the kind of warmth you’d want after a day spent in Wellington boots and muddy lanes. And if you save some of that sourdough – sadly, all that’s left of ours at this point is a crust – it makes for some delicious mopping up, too.
A slab of halibut is meaty and rich. Caramel-coloured on the outside, glacier-white within, it’s got that inviting crispy/soft contrast. Crowning the fish are some greens and ‘sea herbs’, including samphire and sea rosemary, as well as something leafy that looks like spinach but could also be from the ocean. Beneath are some semi-mashed potatoes, ruffled and crumbly, mixed with crab chunks.
Over on my partner’s side is some pasta: hand-cut, and full of girolles. Antonino is right, the pasta is excellent. But what’s the feathery coffee-coloured mound covering it? Surely not truffle? ‘It doesn’t taste like truffle,’ my partner says. And it doesn’t, but it is supposed to be truffle. Presumably it’s just lost its flavour, as truffle does. But no matter: the pasta is bathing in a silky truffle butter, rich and luscious. Even as we get full, we return for one more forkful; it’s the kind of food that draws you back in.
Dessert? It’s a soothing as the rest of it. Chocolate cremeux and cocoa nib crumble with vanilla ice cream is exactly that, and if you need to hear more than that then I’m afraid you’re out of luck. It’s delicious. Lemon curd tart is made magical by a brown sugar meringue, aloft on its surface like a foam. It has a deeper flavour than regular meringue, almost like molasses, with those woody notes that almost taste smoky. It’s magnificent: make sure you try the meringue on its own, by scooping a tiny smidgin on your spoon.
‘How was it?’ Antonino asks, almost looking jealous. He knows we love it from the look on our faces. And in that relaxed and sated after-dessert atmosphere, Antonino tells us about how this site used to house a restaurant called Como Lario, which served Italian food for over 50 years. I’m sure they’d approve of LIV’s fresh hand-cut pasta.
Here in Belgravia, whose local residents can presumably afford to eat in anywhere they like, being a neighbourhood restaurant is doubly demanding. So it’s forgivable that LIV’s menu is on the pricier side. Those starters come in at just under £15 each, and all the mains are in the £20s. It’s steep, but you will be rewarded.
And it’s a tough time for new restaurants. LIV’s opening few weeks were interrupted by Covid, leading to a change of chef. They need some love, and judging from this meal, they serve food that loves you back. Like I said: soothing.