The Oval Restaurant at The Wellesley London
When it comes to choosing a place for dinner in the exclusive city of London, you can’t go wrong with the Oval Restaurant at The Wellesley London. Warm and cosy with exquisite Italian food, my first meal at the restaurant will definitely not be my last.
With seating for just 25 people, the Oval Restaurant at The Wellesley London has a very intimate feel making it the ideal place for a romantic dinner, special birthday treat or even a formal business lunch where privacy and discretion is of the utmost importance. The extremely low lighting and unusual oval shape enhance the ambience, making the restaurant feel like a real home away from home.
The décor is similar to that of the rest of The Wellesley London, fusing art deco and contemporary styles with a slick and understated modern finish. A grand, state-of-the-art chandelier hangs above us while the white marble flooring boasts a striking grey pattern and delicate gold edging, enhancing the tasteful atmosphere in an unobtrusive fashion. The coffee-coloured leather banquette style seating frames the edge of the room while a huge bouquet of white orchids, soft pink flowers and green foliage placed on the central table enhances the graceful aesthetic. The contrast of the white leather walls and large panelled mirrors against the low, dark lighting creates a toasty warm ambience, enhanced by the soft jazz music in the background.
The menu at the Oval Restaurant at The Wellesley London offers a good choice of authentic Italian dishes, created by head chef Michele del Monaco. As an Italian native with extensive experience in the luxury food sphere, the influence of both his homeland and his global culinary training is apparent in his dishes and in the entire, Mediterranean-style relaxed ambience of the restaurant. The service is extremely friendly and our waiter, Umberto, is always on hand. Once we are seated, he provides us with the extensive wine list and – on his advice – we choose the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a lovely dry red. As we sip on our wine and enjoy the hushed tones of the surroundings, a basket of homemade breads is placed on the table. They are warm to the touch and give off a gorgeous aroma. We dip the bread in Sicilian olive oil, which is so fresh that it tastes as if the olives have been pressed right there in the restaurant.
Del Monaco explains how the menu is changed every season in order to offer diners the best food using the freshest seasonal ingredients. “Our style is simple but we try to pick out all the flavours from every ingredient. We have a close-knit kitchen team and [we are] always looking to improve. We always want to think about it all and go through a lot of experimentation before we put the food on the plate.” The team employs a range of cooking styles and often cook ‘regular’ dishes in exotic ways. With the pork belly, for example, they played with the texture of the meat and also created a special marinade. The pork is then cooked for 24 hours at 66 degrees. As del Monaco explains, “Every dish has a story.”
Following an asparagus-themed amuse bouche, we are presented with our starters – Smoked Tuna Tartare with Poached Breadcrumbed Duck Egg for two of us while our third diner chooses Roasted Scallops. It turns out that we are in good company, as del Monaco explains that the Tuna Tartare is one of his favourite dishes. The fish is smoked freshly on site and when the food is brought out and the waiter lifts the lid on the dish, it is still smoking. “It is so special the way that it is presented still smoking,” del Monaco explains, “and it is very beautiful.” This offers a dazzling glimpse into just how adventurous the chef is with his food.
The flavours are fresh and clean, with just the right size portions and flawless presentation. We take our time over the food and there is no pressure to rush, which is always welcome. For the main course, it’s Sea Bass in a Salt Crust for me, Dover Sole for my first dining companion and Ox Cheek for the other. When our food is ready, the waiter wheels out a lavish tray and proceeds to break the salt crust off my fish in front of us. It’s fascinating as we can see how thick the crust is and again, how freshly the food is served. Small touches such as this make the Oval Restaurant at The Wellesley London somewhere that is not just a lovely place to eat but also a place where you feel very welcome as a diner. This is not just a meal but also an experience. The lamb with black truffle crust is another of del Monaco’s favourite dishes, featuring what he describes as “a very crispy crust and a perfect flavour.” We are all extremely satisfied with our food, which is rich in flavour without any unnecessary frills to distract from the fresh, natural taste.
Michelin starred training
The stories that del Monaco tells through his cooking are conveyed through vibrant yet subtle flavours, innovative presentation and a fusion of original ingredients. One of his signature dishes is the Cod Brandade Ravioli, where the pasta is stuffed with a type of salt cod, dusted with coffee and served with aubergine pesto and tomato. It is created using a French cooking style, giving a small nod to the abundance of international experience that del Monaco has had.
He began cooking at just 15, working in hotel restaurants around Venice during his school holidays. Showing promise and expertise from the beginning, he moved to Florence after he finished his studies to work at the Michelin-starred Il Pellicano restaurant. He stayed in Florence for two years and it was here that he worked under chef Antonio Guida, who he describes as one of the chefs he is most inspired by, “for his attitude to his work and his attitude to the ingredients.”
An impressive career
Following his time at Il Pellicano, del Monaco worked at restaurants in in the north of Italy and then spent three years dividing his time between Tanit restaurant in Sardinia and Duo in Rio de Janeiro, the latter of which is rumoured to be the first Italian restaurant in the Brazilian city. Following this, del Monaco came to London and to the Oval Restaurant at The Wellesley London, where he was promoted from sous chef to head chef after six months.
With his third anniversary as head chef of the Oval Restaurant at The Wellesley London coming up this winter, del Monaco and his team continue to produce impeccable cuisine across every course. It is all so delicious that we only manage to order one dessert between us, as we are almost full to burst. The Pistachio Semi-Freddo with Orange Crème Brulee is again simple and classic, with delicious flavours and unfussy ingredients of the highest quality. It is accompanied by a selection of tiny chocolate treats, which are delightfully presented in a cigar box, giving a nod to the Cigar Lounge and Terrace of which the hotel is so proud of.