Dean Street is in the heart of Soho, central London. It runs from Oxford Street south to Shaftesbury Avenue and has a long and colourful history, as has much of this neighbourhood. In 1764 the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave a recital at number 21. Admiral Nelson lodged here the day before setting sail for Trafalgar. He is said to have spent some time at a nearby undertakers choosing a coffin. That proved to be time well-spent, as history will recall.
Soho, in general, has been famed for Chinese food, but there are great numbers of decent restaurants of other culinary persuasions these days. Forty Dean Street is the eponymous restaurant and it is Italian. I mean the sort of Italian that I remember from my childhood (and I am old enough to have the free bus pass). It’s the sort of Italian restaurant which one hopes to find and too often does not. It’s cosy, friendly, inclusive and positively comforting.
In typical Soho fashion, this restaurant is long and narrow but all of it buzzing with activity. The waiting staff here have that fluid movement of professionals – lots of confident multi-plate carrying and full-drink-tray hefting. One has a sense that this is an establishment that takes pride in both food and service.
A transplanted corner of Italy
The imposing walnut wood (I think) bar lends so much to the atmosphere of a classic Italian restaurant. This isn’t ‘Italian-themed’ but more accurately a restaurant of a type which one would likely find filled with locals in, say, Pisa or Sorrento. There is not a plastic gondola in sight but plenty to remind one that this is a transplanted corner of Italy. There is an ornate ice bucket on the aforementioned bar which makes quite a statement; I hope the owners never consider moving it.
This is a family-run restaurant and it’s been around for 17 years with a focus on good quality and great value. The set menu offers fresh, seasonal dishes appealing to the regulars and there seem to be many of those. The à la carte menu has Italian classics and something for every taste. We started by nibbling what looked like Carasau bread which is impossibly thin and crispy, accompanying our glasses of Chianti and Valpolicella.
Starters were Bruschetta of chopped tomatoes, garlic, and basil with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, along with Crunchy Deep-fried Squid with tomato salsa and sweet chilli and garlic mayo. Both flavourful and light and perfect for this unseasonably warm spring evening. One could have been a million miles (or at least six hundred) from Shaftesbury Avenue, if it had not been for the clue of a restaurant filled with English speakers and a few Americans.
Delicious to the last bite
My guest ordered Spaghetti with King Prawns as his main course after much debate about the possibilities of trying the pizza, which looked striking (saving that for next visit). He was delighted with his pasta, however. It was colourful and full of prawns. He pronounced the spaghetti to be particularly fine and al dente. Simple yet authentically delicious to the last bite.
Chicken Saltimbocca was my choice of main dish. This was served with grilled asparagus which is particularly good just now, garlic mashed potatoes, a delicate hint of sage and butter sauce. Oh, deep joy! This was as far from nouvelle cuisine as one would wish to hurry. It was a well-presented plate of succulent meat on a base of potatoes for which to die.
Coffee macchiato and Profiteroles finished our memorable repast. The dessert was attractively served with a jug of chocolate sauce on the side with two spoons as garnish. Another classic in a classic restaurant. A fitting end to a truly delightful evening in Forty Dean Street that has deservedly endured for almost a couple of decades.
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday noon – 12pm
Forty Dean Street
London W1D 4PX
Restaurant Phone: 020 7734 1853
Office Phone: 020 7734 4492
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018