Mele e Pere

A strange thing has just happened in Soho: a new restaurant has opened with minimal fuss or hype and, get this, LOADS OF SPACE. It’s called Mele e Pere, it’s an Italian trattoria and, honestly, there are no queues and it’s positively cavernous down there.

We should probably herald this as a good thing.

Problem is, if you’ve opened a restaurant that’s got the floor space of a Wagamama, Wahaca or Jamie’s Italian, you’ve got to fill it – both (a) for the vibes (I believe that’s a restaurant industry technical term); and (b) so that you can pay your extortionate Soho rent. Otherwise it follows that (a) your restaurant is not hugely fun to be in (and I rate fun as an important part of my eating out experience); and (b) you won’t exist for very long.

No doubt filling a new restaurant in its early days is difficult, particularly if Joe Public doesn’t know about its presence.

But it’s even more difficult to get drop-ins from passers by if, from the outside, the stark, ground level entrance with blown glass multi-coloured apples and pears in the window, looks for all the world like it might be an interior design shop. Or the office of mediah type company. Or an art gallery. But not somewhere to get a decent plate of food and a glass of wine.

Our experience on Tuesday night was certainly affected by a lack of fellow punters. This is, for the moment, an observation not a criticism and I’ll try to keep this in perspective in the remainder of this review. But over the next few weeks, Mele e Pere will need to work on their PR and street level presence.

Having said that, even with more bums on seats I suspect there might be a few too few tables in too big a basement space to get those ‘vibes’. But at least the bank manager and landlord might be temporarily placated.

Lecture over, what was it like?

You’ll have noted already that the restaurant is down a set of stairs [stairs/apples and pears/mele e pere?] and quite big. It also features a large and attractive copper topped bar and some pleasant solid wood high tables at the front of the room, before opening out to a larger space with your more typical table and chair combo. Not stunning or ground breaking, but light, nicely done and stylish enough.

The food is reasonably priced. Less than, say, Bocca di Lupo, and in fact pretty comparable with Jamie’s Italian kind of prices. Which is good considering the provenance of the chef (he’s from the Wild Honey and Arbutus stable).

We shared a few starters between seven. Plates of snails were good (not too much garlic); regional cold meats were ok (which is arguably not good enough); and a bowl of tripe was the best starter, maybe even the best dish of the whole evening. Seriously. Sweet and balanced tomato sauce, tender strips of tripe and a faint whiff of poo.

Most others in the group had pasta as a main course (though it can be served as a small portion too). The pasta was all fresh and well made. But judging by the wait, there’s every chance they’d had to roll out more dough to fulfill our order. Maybe the kitchen was cleaning down.

Tagliatelle with beef cheek ragu was probably the pick of the bunch, though orecchiette with Romanesco cauliflower, friggitelli and clams was arguably more novel and interesting. A carbonara was nice enough but lacked seasoning. Ravioli of ricotta with walnut pesto looked good, but was also under seasoned, pretty bland and slightly cloying to eat. This needed something else – a bit of lemon zest, more walnut oil, something peppery.

Someone went for a hand chopped veal starter as a main. I didn’t steal any of that so can’t comment. And I went for plaice a la plancha and didn’t share any, so can comment. Happily it was perfectly cooked and was served with a spoonful of firm borlotti beans and fresh chilli. It showed that the kitchen was definitely better than a standard Italian restaurant, even if they’re a bit tight on seasoning. A side of roasted fennel was nicely charred and had a bit of bite – but it could arguably have taken a few more of cooking minutes to both sweeten and soften the flesh a touch more.

We didn’t do desserts, though we did drink quite a healthy amount of wine. Italian lists are always a bit of a mystery to me – but we were very happy with their excellently priced refosco (I think this was under £20). Red currents, plummy, light enough to go with all of our dishes, but enough tannin for you to remember it the next morning. I rarely mention the wine, but it’s good when a wine list includes plenty of affordable options, and where those affordable wines are still good.

So all in all our meal was nice enough (if perhaps slightly under seasoned in places), it was well priced and the staff were lovely. But the cavernous and largely empty room was a massive problem and one that’s going to be hard to sort out – because Mele e Pere needs to be full and even then may not foster the kind of atmosphere that abounds in so many other restaurants in Soho.

Mele e Pere is definitely not a Zucca, Trullo or Bocca di Lupo, and I have to say I was hoping that it would be. But it would still be a shame if this well-intentioned independent Italian does not get enough punters in for it to survive and maybe even flourish.

Mele e Pere in 3 words

Needs more people.

The Bill

About £30 a head for a couple of courses and wine. – 46 Brewer Street, W1F 9TF – 020 7437 8516