Found opposite the Phantom of the Opera in Haymarket, you’d expect recently-opened Italian eatery Assaggini to be a tourist-trap. But it’s not, strangely. At least it wasn’t during our recent mid-week visit. That’s not to say it’s insider central — naturally, it caters predominantly to the pre- and post-theatre crowds — but there’s a neighbourhood café vibe going on here. Perhaps it’s the interiors — all exposed brickwork, dark chocolate seating, rough-hewn oak tables and gilt-edged mirrors — perhaps it’s the staff — smiley and hospitable — or perhaps it’s the food. Ahh, the food. The real raison d’être.
Built around Italian-style sharing plates — what isn’t these days? — the menu is a mouthwatering snapshot of Mediterranean fare. With empty bellies to fill, we opted for a smorgasbord of decadent delights: creamy burrata — heavenly light mozzarella made sinful by deep-frying — sausage and cheese rolls — admittedly, a little out of place here — handmade spaghettoni and duck ragù — rich, hearty and bursting with flavour — and pan-fired calf’s liver, our least favourite dish. A simple side — or ‘contorni’, as they’re called here — of spinach wrapped things up nicely, though it wasn’t needed to make the small-plate platter substantial. For dessert, we opted for wild berry panna cotta — every bit as hedonistic as it sounds — and chocolate cake, which lacked invention but went down well nevertheless. Washing things down were a couple of mojito sbagliatos — a heady, head-spinning concoction made from Bacardi, Martini Bianco, Galliano and Processco — leaving absolutely no room for after-dinner limoncello. We could barely stand as it was.
While not in the league of Polo and co., Assaggini is certainly an advisable option for a quick Italian bite and service with a smile. And found close to the shows and plays of the West End, it’s the perfect pit-stop for those pressed for time.
But Hg2 London here