There are no airs and graces about the food at Zilli Fish - its the quality of ingredients that should shine, and its here that Zilli delivers. On a summer’s evening the Soho restaurant (which looks more like a smart brasserie), was quiet when we arrived. The restaurant only just started filling up when we left at 9.30pm, though it was still light and felt like early evening. Its selling point isn’t its uninspiring outlook over Brewer St, but it could make for some entertaining people watching in the summer.
Presented with the crisp menu, every dish sounded delicious and fresh. Thankfully the waiter delivered us focaccia and grissini with fresh salsa of tomato, anchovy and olive to start us off as we deliberated. We sat in a state of indecision for some time over the abundance of starters, pasta and fish main options (you could also order lamb, but why would you?), and finally requested assistance from the waiter to narrow down our choices.
Every man I’ve ever dated has been crazy about calamari fritti and, being a person who has always tried food from everyone else’s plate, I’ve sampled quite a lot of it over the years. I never order it myself because it is so often disappointing, but I was pleased when my partner ordered it as a starter because no fish restaurant worth its salt could serve poor calamari fritti. I wasn’t disappointed. Tender circles of fresh calamari in the lightest of moreish batters, served on a paper covered chopping block with chilli and a tartare dipping sauce, this served as a promise of more perfectly executed dishes to come. I had my hand slapped away more than once. My own tuna carpaccio, almost ceviche with it’s soaking in lemon and drizzled with good olive oil, topped with rocket and parmesan, was equally perfect. Every ingredient was of the highest quality and worked perfectly, well matched to all the other components of each dish.
Our main course comprised the organic farmed sea bass and the tuna steak, and again both were zingingly fresh. One of the team of smart and charming waiters offered to bring the sea bass filleted, and then, when I chose to have it whole he offered to fillet it for me at the table. Ah, service. The recommended wine by the glass, Gavi di Gavi, was refreshing and also perfectly accompanied both of our dishes.
Finally, pudding. Sticking to the Italian theme, it seemed wrong to ignore the tiramisu. Whilst keeping things simple with the first two courses had been successful on the menu, the same strategy wasn’t as effective with the desserts, which though well prepared and made with top quality ingredients, didn’t deliver on flavour in the way the earlier dishes had.
Zilli Fish is a great venue for a fresh fish supper pre or post theatre. While you can undoubtedly pay less for dishes with similar names in nearby, similarly kitted out brasseries, the quality of the ingredients at Zilli is noticeably superior and well worth any premium. If you’re keen on having a Zilli experience at home you can even sign up for Aldo’s fish course, but at £300 a head for less than a full day you may prefer to just come back and eat at the restaurant a few more times!
Zilli Fish: 36 - 40 Brewer Street, London, W1. Tel: 020 7734 8649.
Reviewer: Jennifer Earle