What is that mysterious alchemy whereby a restaurant survives for over 40 years? In Knightsbridge there are several Italian restaurants still flourishing that I visited for many years – San Lorenzo, Signer Sassi and not so far away La Famiglia – and yesterday I went back to another, Montpelliano. This was started in 1974 by Antonio Tarpani who was at the restaurant with a buffon of grey hair, red braces and jeans yesterday.
It’s a spacious restaurant with a garden type feel divided into 2 sections. The first at the front overlooks Montpellier Street where we sat and is more for lunch, the second under a glass roof more greenery and exotic. I remember getting dined there and divinely seduced afterwards by an Argentinian formula one racing driver in the 80s, naughty boy he still contacts me!!!! My host yesterday was a banking colleague of Ollie’s, a stylish man whose company I have always enjoyed. He wanted to view the modern British paintings to be auctioned at Bonhams opposite so it made for a convenient venue.
In the 40 odd years since its foundation Italian cooking and restaurant ambience has changed a lot. Some sophisticated restaurants like Walter Apicella’s Meridiana have fallen by the wayside though he made a very good living as a restaurant designer for Peter Boizot’s Pizza Express and others. Montpelliano has that feature of restaurants of the seventies, the signed photo by a star on the wall. More importantly it has space. I simply cannot abide those Italian restaurants that pack you into tables for two like battery hens. We had a table for two by the window with no one near us.
I ordered carpaccio and cotelletta Milanese, veal in breadcrumbs. Veal cooked 100 ways was another feature of 70s cucina like the insalate tricolore (mozzarella, avocado, amd tomato) which you never find in Italy. The carpaccio had a mustardy, truffle sauce which was terrific. With veal, I ordered small portion of spaghetti napolitana, not on the menu but served with no problem. The veal also arrived with a full range of vegetables. My host had a risotto. I had a business engagement later so we eschewed wine. Italian restaurants have moved on with regional cooking like the Sardinian Olivo or Zeffarelli, the celebrity owner like Aldo Zilli and the cookery books and holidays but in the same way that French brasserie cooking became fashionable once again, I can see why the more traditional Montpelliano has stayed the course. Diners appreciate comfort, service, knowing the patron, sensible prices . These are the essential of survival as much as good food.