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Four to Eight

Restaurants, Italian Covent Garden
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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An independent Italian restaurant in Covent Garden.

Aldwych is a funny old corner of London. I’ve been there hundreds of times, and seem to navigate it differently on each visit. Is this Drury Lane? Oh no, it’s the next one. What’s this one, then? Catherine Street. Never heard of it. Businesses must worry about repeat trade here, in case you never find them again. For restaurants, it’s probably academic: so much of their custom is from tourists and theatregoers in the world of the long-running musical. Four to Eight is on one of the spokes radiating from the gyratory’s north side, as you head up towards Covent Garden. In a handsome, wedge-shaped space, it’s light and glassy: it looks vaguely ‘contemporary’. And maybe that’s its problem.

Four to Eight promises ‘beautiful, simple food’, which is a noble pursuit. Most of what we ate managed one or other, but rarely both. A small plate of slow-poached egg with chicken-skin crisp, cod roe and broccoli was mostly successful. It was certainly beautiful, with a delicate rosemary crumb. But the taramsalata consistency of the roe wasn’t that nice. Bottarga would have delivered a bit more punch, or maybe just leave it out altogether? Courgette flower with goat’s cheese was better: both pretty and straightforward.

A main of black ink linguine with clams and cuttlefish was over-oily, which made the pasta slovenly. Though there were clamshells aplenty, their former inhabitants proved more elusive, shiftily skulking around the edges and unable to account for the whereabouts of half their number. A vegetarian dish of semolina gnocci was much happier, though rather over-seasoned. A delicate salad of bitter leaves brought a welcome ping of both freshness and greenery. Service was exemplary throughout: efficient, attentive and friendly; but you need more than green shoots and winning smiles. I do, anyway.

Four to Eight is caught in a no man’s land, both literally and figuratively. You feel its heart is in robust, rustic Italian cooking: where the kids can run about, and the wine can flow and everyone can have an unselfconsciously happy time. The staff are lovely: the owners on hand to chat and recommend. Its head, though, says West End, and the international language of dark colours, steel, exposed brickwork and cover slots.

The wine list has expensive bottles but also good choice under £30. Still, Four to Eight is neither the ‘simple’ dining it advertises itself as, nor the fine dining it aspires to be. It should clearly pick the former: you don’t need a mural of the Amalfi Coast, necessarily, but if you cook and serve from the heart, no one’s going to hold it against you. Especially in the strange land of Aldwych.

Details

Address: 1-5 Catherine Street
London
WC2B 5JZ
Transport: Tube: Temple
Price: Meal for two with drinks and service: £90.
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