It’s buzzy in a very inclusively intergenerational way: the 20 year olds are there so they can take a picture for Instagram, anyone over 60 is reliving their youth and everyone in between is there to savour a good time and to forget about the fact that they’ll probably be in Frankfurt this time next year.
Why do we go out for dinner? Sure, we want to have a delicious meal that we haven’t had to (and probably couldn’t even if we wanted to) contrive and then laboriously construct from the inaugural onions upwards, but if that’s all you want from the experience why not stick to Deliveroo and eat your three-course meal from Galvin at Windows, or equally Michelin-starred Trishna, in your own house? Of course, Deliveroo has its place, but doesn’t the idea of a meal from a Michelin-starred restaurant packed into disposable Tupperware and sent off across town on the back of a bike seem like a bit of a waste? Even if the food retains its original flavour, temperature and aesthetic impact, you’re still (probably) eating it with a plastic fork on the sofa in your pyjamas.Obviously, going out for dinner is about so much more than the food, and that’s what Daphne’s does so well. Glamorous in a very intimate way; warm marble, dark wood, rich Mediterranean colours; the lighting is part 1950s Murano glass chandeliers and part self-generated by the diamonds of the diners. Fear not, there are no trainers here. Most of the men are in blazers and most of the women look like they are well acquainted with the first floor, or at least the ground and fifth floors of Harrods. It’s buzzy in a very inclusively intergenerational way: the 20 year olds are there so they can take a picture for Instagram, anyone over 60 is reliving their youth and everyone in between is there to savour a good time and to forget about the fact that they’ll probably be in Frankfurt this time next year.
That’s not to say the food isn’t fantastic – it is. To start with, I had the melanzane alla parmigiana, simple enough, but so liberal in its ratios, so bountiful in its richness, it’s a highly-cholesterolised cuddle (and who even knows if it’s bad for you? Cardiologists certainly don’t, or at least, they can’t agree, which is tantamount to the same thing). For main course, the best lobster pasta in London (sorry Cecconi’s, Sartoria and everyone else): generous with the lobster, perfectly textured pasta (calamarata, at the moment) and just enough tomato/chilli/parsley to complement the lobster without overpowering its own delicate sweetness. For pudding, a delicious apple sfogliata (yes, it sounds niche but it turns out it’s sort of like an Italian tarte tatin) with toffee ice cream.
There are no vapours, no foams, no unlikely cultural fusions and no new combinations. It’s the kind of classic, homely Italian cooking that doesn’t adulterate its raw ingredients too much, but just enough, to reel you in and keep you coming back, and come back they do, for this is a local favourite and has been for half a century. And one of the reasons for its enduring popularity is that Daphne’s doesn’t just give you a good meal, it shows you a good time.
Average for three courses for two people £115 (not including wine).
Daphne’s, 112 Draycott Ave, Chelsea, London SW3 3AE