Let me start by saying that I absolutely wanted to love Ristorante Gloria. I had long been awaiting their opening on the 22nd of February: I walk by the premises on a daily basis and realised they were opening there in January. I practically kept a countdown. So I was over the moon when I managed to get a table just four days after opening.
And so, you can imagine my disappointment at not being able to say that I absolutely loved it. That’s not to say that there isn’t lots to love, because there is! For one thing, I can’t recall an Italian restaurant in London that has taken more care and consideration in its decor. The beautiful terracotta-potted plants and flowers outside the restaurant make you feel you are entering an oasis among the urban jungle that is London. Once you come in, between bar and restaurant, it feels like you’ve been transported back in time to an Italy of yesteryear: between the abundance of flowers, the glamorous bar, the (mostly) Italian pop music, and the artistically designed restaurant that makes generous use of mosaic work (the gorgeous tables) and majolica inspired dishes, I felt as if I had been teleported to my favourite Italian playground, the island of Capri.
I loved it so much so, in fact, that I tried to overlook the unnecessary quantity of pillows, or that the restaurant was simply way too dark: I needed the torch on my mobile device to read the menu, written on creme-coloured paper with maroon ink. The tea lights on the table were never going to sufficiently light the table for the menu to be legible.
Aside from legibility, I found the menu to be a bit of a confused mess: there were some starter options, then a section for secondi which, in Italian, indicates meat or fish dishes but this section was predominantly pasta, some sides and then a box in the corner which suggests they offer breakfast but presumably this must be a different menu because there are no more details beyond this. The menu makes heavy use of fennel which is unfortunate for me, as it’s a strong flavour that doesn’t suit my palate in large quantities. And, while I appreciate they are trying to be funny or clever, most of their menu consists of dishes that – aside from minor variations – are standard or classic dishes that would be much clearer to understand if they would call them as they are. There is no sense in taking a classic salsiccia e friarelli pizza whose only real change is the addition of olives and putting it on the menu as “Youporn”. (Aren’t there any trademark issues against that, by the way?)
They do, however, serve my absolute favourite pasta: carbonara. I was over the moon because they seem to do it properly: they even use guanciale instead of pancetta! They also serve it in a round of pecorino cheese, BUT, it’s only available for a party of 2, in addition to a couple of other dishes which – quite frankly – are the best ones on the menu. I found this incredibly frustrating, a feeling that was only exacerbated further when they admitted that they will do a carbonara for a single person at lunch but not at dinner. In other words, they were being difficult just for the fun of it. NOT impressed.
My friend and I ordered 3 starters to share: the smoked stracciatella di burrata, salami and the guanciale and truffle croquettes. Aside from the particularly strong flavour of the fennel in the salami that I did not enjoy, the rest was truly very good. The croquettes were delightful and the stracciatella di burrata was creamy and fresh. The dishes were served with bread, which was excellent but again, I can’t understand why the first portion of bread that came out was standard sourdough and the second portion was laced with fennel, for no rhyme or reason.
I carried on my meal with the aforementioned Youporn pizza (my friend ordered lasagne, with which he was very pleased). The pizza arrived looking intimidating (so big it was falling off the plate) and delicious. The flavours themselves – the broccoli, the olives, the sausage – were all of a high quality and undoubtedly fresh (although of course the fennel in the sausage was overpowering), but it was the dough that let me down. Excessively thick and doughy at the crust, and too thin in the middle to pick up; it just became a soggy mess. It was a huge disappointment on that front. (The previously-reviewed Made In Italy is still London’s best pizza).
I have not yet mentioned customer service, and it very much deserves a special mention. For starters, I learned from research prior to arrival that the restaurant prides itself on a fully authentically Italian staff; this was not 100% the case. But that’s not an issue for me. What was more of an issue is the pressure to eat and get out. Between my friend and I, we lost count of how often the waiters tried to take our plates from us while WE WERE STILL EATING. This occurred at every stage: starters, mains, throughout; not just once, but repeatedly. I understand table turnover is important, but we were made to feel we were an imposition from the start and they wanted us out fast. The whole meal felt rushed and – while surely not intended to be – came across as rather rude.
I’d seen desserts go by but we were too stuffed to even dream of ordering one; as such, I ordered a coffee (single shot espresso, because as a self-respecting Italian what else would I order) and, I must admit, I was impressed. Strange as it might seem, this was the star of the show for me: I had forgotten what good Italian coffee is supposed to taste like after having been away for a while and, no doubt, having it served in my favourite majolica style espresso cup enhanced the experience. I immensely enjoyed this coffee.
Considering that for 3 fantastic starters, 2 mains, a coffee and a digestif, we ate for less than £30 each, it’s certainly value for money. So, between the great food, reasonable prices and the gorgeous decor, I do believe Ristorante Gloria has promise. I understand they’ve only just opened and perhaps they are still finding their rhythm when it comes to details such as service speeds. I would certainly return again, but I’m not sure it’d be for another dinner in the dark. I’m very intrigued by, and hopeful about, the tempting pasta dishes – particularly that carbonara – and so I may pop in for lunch next week. (If so, I’ll add an appendix to this review accordingly).
*Calories were downright scary for this meal, and I’m sure I’ll be making up for it for the next couple of week. Between the shared starters, the bread that was eaten with the starters and the pizza, I’ve gotten to a rough estimate of 1600 calories.
Food taste: 3.8 / 5 (What was good was very good, but oh my goodness enough with the fennel)
Food/table presentation: 4.5 / 5 (I adore the majolica dishes and mosaic table; if I ever marry and register one day, my bridal registry will be full of this stuff)
Service: 3 / 5 (Friendly, but it is never appropriate to take people’s dishes from them while they are still eating. Repeatedly. No excuse here.)
Atmosphere/decor: 4.5 / 5 (It’s gorgeous; there are no two ways about it.)
Value for money: 4 / 5 (Definitely in line with trendy Shoreditch prices, but reasonable – particularly given the overall quality)
Overall rating: 3.9 / 5