The soundtrack is a funky kind of samba-soul and the vibe is just as up-tempo as the beat. A stalwart of London’s restaurant scene, Novikov in Mayfair may still be dusting off the bunting following its 10 year-anniversary celebrations (it opened in 2011), but yet there’s still a frisson in the air, just like when the restaurant first opened its doors.
Made up of not one but two dining rooms – upstairs is an Italian restaurant and downstairs is a Pan Asian eaterie – when he first opened in London, restaurateur Arkady Novikov put in place his unique vision.
The Asian Restaurant has a menu oozing with dishes you’ll want to order – from the King Crab Leg Wasabi Gratinated to the Lemongrass Duck and Miso Black Cod. Inside, the dining room is dark and seductive – a serious grown-up space.
By contrast, in the Italian Restaurant, it’s as if you’ve stepped into Capri. There are potted trees, wrought iron details and an open kitchen with fish counter – just like you’d find in an Italian market. Overseen by chef Marco Torri, the menu champions the best of Italy’s regional cuisine. Butter-like burrata is velvety smooth, crisp calamari fritti is compulsively Moorish and bruschetta with nduja and mozzarella is decadent with its sprinkling of gold powder.
For mains, a standout dish is the Taglioni with Crab and Courgette Flowers – just like Mama used to make, while the fish dishes – such as the Grilled Sea Bass Fillet served with Salmoriglio Sauce and oversized, succulent prawns simply grilled – are not to be missed. Meanwhile, authentic desserts include a tiramisu and chocolate fondant which will have you lusting after it for days after.
Looking back over the past ten years, Novikov’s general manager, Caroline Taylor, talks to Forbes and gives her insight into the restaurant’s ethos.
What is the USP of Novikov?
From the minute you walk through the door, Novikov disarms. It’s energetic, it’s happy, it’s busy. There is plenty to look at, but most of all there is the sensational food and drinks to get the taste buds working. There is something comforting – or teasing – for everyone.
Why do you think Novikov has endured so well?
We don’t rest and we do not assume. We are very aware there are many amazing establishments nipping at our ankles. We use our experience to our advantage, however, and we open the doors each day as if it were the first.
How do you keep the offering ‘fresh’ when London boasts so many exciting new restaurant openings?
Behind the scenes no stone is left unturned. The strive for the best quality and range of products is never ending. Our suppliers are constantly reviewed and compared. They bring us the newest and the best they can obtain. We have a punishing maintenance and cleaning regime which delivers a brand-new-looking restaurant every day. We have a wonderful and experienced team who are proud and enthusiastic and who are dedicated to keep delivering the very best. Our team know our customers and have built great relationships, which keep our guests coming back to us.
What is the standout dish in the Asian Room?
Scallop Jalapeno Maki Roll: it is made with fresh hand-dived scallops, served with a tangy jalapeno sauce. Delicious!
What is the standout dish in the Italian Room?
Served in a baby parmesan wheel, Gragnano Candele Pasta Carbonara is our best-seller. It is very authentic, extremely rich and comforting and simply oozes layers of flavour.
Is there a ‘best table’?
There are no particular ‘best tables’ – it’s more about personal preference. You can choose an outside table looking in (great for people-watching), or in the middle in the heart of the action. There are quieter spots or somewhere to watch the chefs. As both restaurants are of a fair size. there’s lots of flexibility.
What restaurant do you prefer to dine in and why?
This is like choosing between your children! Usually, the choice is down to who I am dining with. But, if it’s just with my husband, we err on the side of the Italian.
Tell us about your collaboration with Brent Eleigh Hall?
It began at the very end of 2014, when the then new owners of Brent Eleigh Hall took over. We discussed at length how best to rejuvenate the beautiful two-acre Victorian walled garden in sunny Suffolk. Compared to London it feels like it has its own micro climate.
It was extremely exciting for our chefs. Firstly, they had direct input into what types of vegetable grow each season. That then led to the addition of two polytunnels and amazing varieties of micro herbs and salad leaves.
Brent Eleigh vegetable garden is truly beautiful and we get a lot out of visiting, but equally the gardening team also love coming to London and dining in the restaurant. The chefs go to Brent Eleigh garden to cook and host one of our summer Masterclasses. It’s a happy place for all of us.
What innovations at the restaurant are you the most proud of ?
I don’t like to use the word ‘innovation’, it might easily be misinterpreted as gimmicky. No gimmicks for me nor for Novikov. Day to day we rely on experience, observation and determination. We are always looking at ways to give added value to our guests. There is one single yearly event we host, which is eagerly anticipated by both our customers and our team – our Mayfair Christmas Market. It takes place over three days at the end of November, and is held on the street in Mayfair Place, adjacent to the restaurant. It’s the springboard into the festive season. Each year it becomes more successful than the previous. It’s a winning combination of festivity and fun, and everyone wants more. We feel very fortunate to be the host
What do you love about working in restaurants?
Besides my own total enjoyment of food and wine, in simple terms it’s all about people coming together to enjoy a moment in time. As restaurateurs we are the enablers. I love to welcome people and see the anticipation of what lies ahead. I love to see the smile on people’s faces as they leave and I also love to see those same smiling faces come back, week after week, or even year after year. That’s what ‘feel good’ means in my books!
How would you describe Arkady Novikov as a restaurateur?
Tireless, inspired, a perfectionist and challenging!
Having celebrated 10 years, what’s next for Novikov?
Roll my sleeves up in readiness for the next ten!