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Italian food like mama used to do

<strong>Babbo<br />39 Albemarle Street, W1S 4JQ<br /></strong>Cost per person without wine: &pound;50<br /><br />THERE&rsquo;S something pleasingly old-fashioned about the latest addition to Mayfair&rsquo;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 &ndash; this is the old-fashioned Mayfair of the Burlington Arcade and grand old Brown&rsquo;s Hotel (a few doors down), rather than of chic boutiques and sleek bars. The name means &ldquo;daddy&rdquo; 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 &ndash; 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&rsquo;s when we realised there&rsquo;s one rulebook the place is rewriting &ndash; the one about pricing. Entrees average over &pound;12, and you&rsquo;ll have to cough up more than &pound;25 for several of the mains. On the wine front, there&rsquo;s little to choose from that&rsquo;s under &pound;50, and a lot that runs to over three figures. Still, if that isn&rsquo;t a problem for you &ndash; and it didn&rsquo;t seem to be for Friday&rsquo;s crowd &ndash; it&rsquo;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 &ndash; 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 &ndash; though at &pound;14.75, it should have been.<br /><br />We decided to steer around Mama Santi&rsquo;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&rsquo;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&rsquo;Orino, a wine that was perfectly okay but not worth anything near its &pound;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&rsquo;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&rsquo;t the place &ndash; it wears its sense of tradition unashamedly. And I can&rsquo;t say I think it&rsquo;s worth the prices it charges. But it&rsquo;s a warm and welcoming restaurant nevertheless &ndash;?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.