<strong>Babbo<br />39 Albemarle Street, W1S 4JQ<br /></strong>Cost per person without wine: £50<br /><br />THERE’S something pleasingly old-fashioned about the latest addition to Mayfair’s culinary family. With its sparkling chandeliers, framed black and white photos of rustic Italian scenes, smartly-attired waiters and cosy ambience, Babbo is clearly not a restaurant where rulebooks are being rewritten. In fact, it feels as though it could have opened at any time in the last 30 years – this is the old-fashioned Mayfair of the Burlington Arcade and grand old Brown’s Hotel (a few doors down), rather than of chic boutiques and sleek bars. The name means “daddy” in Italian, and its signature lasagna dish is apparently prepared according to a secret 100-year-old recipe passed down to chef Douglas Santi by his grandmother. How cute – if not a little bit quaint.<br /><br />Sitting near the Green Park end of Albemarle Street, Babbo has a long, thin dining room with a curving wooden bar running down one side. At the far end, a wooden staircase curls upwards to a small first-floor dining room. <br /><br />It was busy and buzzy on Friday night when I visited. We sat down at a table in a snug corner at the rear of the dining room, beside a shelf stacked with Italian cookbooks, and peered at the menu. That’s when we realised there’s one rulebook the place is rewriting – the one about pricing. Entrees average over £12, and you’ll have to cough up more than £25 for several of the mains. On the wine front, there’s little to choose from that’s under £50, and a lot that runs to over three figures. Still, if that isn’t a problem for you – and it didn’t seem to be for Friday’s crowd – it’s an attractive, extensive menu full of time-honoured Italian favourites, with a Tuscan emphasis.<br /><br />I started off with fried calamari and prawns, which were terrific. Fried with some slim slithers of courgette and served in a little basket, it was all cooked just to the right point – the calamari was soft and delicious with a mere dusting of crunchy batter, the prawns delicately crisp. My guest went for antipasti of cured meats, with generous piles of prosciutto and chorizo brought out on a chunky wooden chopping board. It was quality stuff, in particular the deep, smoky chorizo – though at £14.75, it should have been.<br /><br />We decided to steer around Mama Santi’s lasagna and went straight to the fish and meat sections of the menu. My friend picked tuna, seared slices of which were served on a bed of assorted wild mushrooms. The tuna, relatively lightly cooked with the inside fresh and pink, was a little bland, something that over-seasoning didn’t make up for. However, my beef cheek served in a red wine sauce was a real humdinger of a dish. The meat was deep and gamey to taste and tender as anything, falling into beautifully moist chunks at the prod of a fork. The sauce was rich as you like. For a simple rural dish, it felt like a marvellous indulgence, and was well complemented by some creamy polenta mash. Special mention should also go to a scrummy side dish of green beans in a spicy tomato sauce. <br /><br />We washed all that down with a bottle of Tuscan red from Pian dell’Orino, a wine that was perfectly okay but not worth anything near its £54 pricing. Nevertheless, it was one of the cheapest on the list.<br /><br />Our waiter brought us a couple of glasses of tasty sweet wine to go with the excellent desserts. I decided to keep things traditional with a tiramisu, which was soft, luscious and light. My friend’s chocolate brownie, served with walnut crispies, honey and a curl of pistachio ice-cream, was gorgeous.<br /><br />If you want a cutting-edge dining experience, Babbo isn’t the place – it wears its sense of tradition unashamedly. And I can’t say I think it’s worth the prices it charges. But it’s a warm and welcoming restaurant nevertheless –?and as far as its chef is concerned, talent seems to run in the family.<br /><br /><strong>IN A NUTSHELL: </strong><br />A smartly traditional Italian restaurant with delicious but overpriced food.