Cotidie, 50 Marylebone High Street, London

Well, which would you prefer: a so-so Italian meal in London, or a trip to Florence?

Despite its ubiquity on our high streets and in our shops, most of us know very little about real Italian cuisine. This is mostly the fault of pasta and pizza which, being relatively easy to cook well with only a few basic ingredients, have become a British staple. Across the country, people are munching through endless variants of these two dishes and thinking, deep down, that what they're really tasting amid the tomato and basil and mozzarella is a distillation of Italy.

What with being a lucky rascal, I went to Florence not all that long ago, and sat in a restaurant which may be my favourite on mainland Europe. It's called Cibreo. The menu there is an exquisite selection of poached fishes, broccoli emulsions, aromatic marinades and cured meats. The emphasis was on freshness of ingredient and stern avoidance of overly processed dishes. That is: exactly the opposite of what you get in your local Pizza Express, never mind Pizza Hut. Italian cuisine is subtle, textured, romantic; the version we eat here is generally clogged, clumpy and full of cholesterol.

This is particularly true at supposedly high-end Italian restaurants, such as Locanda Locatelli, which is a joyless experience if ever I knew one. Your best bet if you're desperate for an affordable Italian, in the capital at least, is somewhere such as Ciao Bella on Lamb's Conduit Street. Cotidie aims to be something in between. It misses.

Cotidie means everyday. This is not an everyday experience. It has a long bench lining one side with what look like mini-streetlights illuminating the wall above. Mirrors, leather, expensive upholstery and waiters who look like Javier Bardem make this a classy joint, the sort of place you expect to receive an offer you can't refuse. This is intentionally distinct from the churn of your local Pizza Express, which is intentionally a McDonald's for the middle classes. There's nothing fast food about this place.

You can get a lunch platter of small dishes for £25 – which is a corporate, as opposed to business, lunch. There's a tasting menu for £65. Dominic and I are going for the more basic menu, taking three courses along the way, from a selection of "pesce", "carne", and "verdure", each offering six dishes.

The vegetables range from stewed artichoke with oregano bruschetta (£10) to dull, braised seasonal vegetables with Piadina flatbread (£15). The best of the vegetables is the fried courgette medallions with raspberry-vinegar dressing, ricotta and sun-dried tomatoes (£12). The courgette is blissfully free of grease, and the raspberry flavour brings out the best of the ricotta.

The fish dishes range from an octopus and potato salad (£11), which is unspectacular, to pan-seared sea bass and aubergine cake with buffalo mozzarella and basil, which is worth about half the £29 charged here. Of the meat dishes, the scrambled egg in its own shell with hazelnuts and Gorgonzola fondue is worth trying at £9 (though why it's in the "carne" category is anyone's guess), and Dominic's grilled Angus beef fillet with chard and Béarnaise sauce is magnificent, though at £28 the most expensive of the "carne" courses.

Desserts are a highlight. Fried beignets (doughnuts, basically) caramelised with orange zest and vanilla custard are most expensive at £10, and the tiramisu at £7.50 is superb: light, beautifully soaked sponge with a generous dusting rather than mere sprinkling of chocolate. A highly satisfying conclusion to the meal.

The wine list is, in keeping with the rest of the meal, over-priced and so without any affordable triumphs. Dominic makes the excellent point that the meal as a whole could only be described as a disappointment in relative terms: were we to eat this in Italy, we'd think it routine and passable, but the fact that we have come out for what is meant to be a fine-dining experience in London means at this price it should be better.

Frankly, I would expect more from the much garlanded chef patron, Bruno Barbieri, one of his country's finest exports. At approaching £200 for a basic meal for two (albeit it one with a couple of bottles of wine), his place isn't worth it. I've just been online and, if you're thinking about booking for late summer, you can get to Florence and back for half that.

5/10

Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets

Cotidie 50 Marylebone High Street, London W1, 020 7258 9878, cotidierestaurant.com. About £180 for two with two bottles of wine

Inspirational Italians

Caldesi in Campagna

Old Mill Lane, Bray, Berks, tel: 01628 788 500

With its Italian family welcome and excellent cuisine, Giancarlo Caldesi's two-year-old Tuscan is a destination with which no one finds any real fault

The River Café

Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, London W6, tel: 020 7386 4201

Quality is absolute at Ruth Rogers' riverside canteen, world-famous for seasonal fare that's the quintessence of Italian cuisine. The bill, however, can render the experience bittersweet

Tempo

54 Curzon Street, London W1, tel: 020 7629 2742

Innovative cooking – from a Japanese chef! – has made Henry Togna's newcomer a welcome addition to Mayfair

Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2012' www.hardens.com

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot