Franco’s is believed to London’s oldest Italian restaurant, located in the heart of St. James on Jermyn Street. A well-groomed clientele can be spotted sitting outside reading copies of the International Herald Tribune and Financial Times, sipping from their cups of coffee or English breakfast tea served in plush tea pots. From the exterior, there’s that classy continental feel that mixes up Jermyn Street’s traditionally English suit shops, boutiques and hotels. Inside, the mood is polite and friendly and during lunch, there’s a charged atmosphere that’s formal without being too pretentious or serious.
I’m not a vegetarian, but I have many friends who are. I feel for them when they’re given a menu with two measly options to choose from. This can sometimes be the case in Mayfair, a traditionally fancy part of London which is usually associated with expensive sizzling steaks and pricey seafood.
I almost spluttered my fresh mint tea when the waiter handed over an entire two-page menu dedicated to vegetarian and vegan dishes. It’s diverse: from first courses, to soups, starter salads, side salads and the main show. Within each section, there’s at least two or more dishes to choose from—nine altogether for the main course. It was the surge of plant-based diets that inspired Chef Stefano Turconi to develop a complete menu that would offer a wide range of dishes separate from the regular menu, revealing a modern twist to one of London’s long-standing restaurants.
It’s definitely worth bringing a close acquaintance or colleague with a hearty appetite so you can both exchange and try as much as possible. Notable dishes include the grilled English asparagus with goat’s cheese mousse and quail eggs for starters followed by the vegetarian lasagne shrouded in cheese. The creamy tagliatelle with mixed mushrooms and shavings of truffle is another standout dish that’s worth mixing and matching with the lasagne, though it might be tempting to have it all for yourself. Alba white truffles are very rare, grown in a specific time frame between October through December in Northern Italy, which makes them highly sought after from chefs and restaurants all over the world. But Franco’s isn’t interested in scrimping and saving, spending £5,000 last October on 1kg of truffle to last the season. And the shavings on my tagliatelle were certainly substantial.
This all goes down very well with a glass of rosé to replicate the classic Portofino dolce vita artwork sprawled across the walls. It would be rude not to try Stefano’s Amaretto crème brûlée and homemade profiteroles served with vanilla ice cream —the sort of cream that tastes like edible silk it’s so smooth. And it would be rude not to gobble it all up and sit back in complete contentment, watching the world go by in a food-coma haze from the large restaurant windows.