The strip around Hyde Park is often hard to deal with in the heat; overcrowded with clacking cars, barraged by beeps and host to enough fumes to turn your clothes toxic. But, let's be honest, that simple city misdemeanour can't dumb down the Park Lane Hotel and its elegance; and it really can't refuse the fact that they're harbouring something of an Italian dining gem.
Newly opened doors mean that while Mercante may have that fresh lick of paint feel about it, you feel as though there's meant to be a measurement of swank regardless; this is the Park Lane Hotel after all. As you stroll into the restaurant not only are you met by a charming deli-inspired area that feels fresh, wholesome and homely with a rural edge, a level of that air extends into the main restaurant itself.
Found on a lower level and split between mustard yellow booths and classic dining tables, Mercante are handing rustic Italy over to diners with a contemporary style. While the restaurant is ultimately dosed in images that tell tales of the history of Florence and Sicily, amongst luxury decanters and jars filled with prim ingredients and spices, the localised feel of the restaurant is certainly backed up with a slick fringe. I personally felt that the lighting could have teetered down a notch to give the restaurant a more romantic tint amongst the large, white walls, but for 3pm in the afternoon we were lunchin' after all.
The Food and Drink
Italian dining has a clear backbone and it consists of a menagerie of fish, oil, garlic and wine. Did Mercante skip the regular load for alternative European fare? They certainly didn't and it's clear to see how in love with the culinary course of their culture that they are. Kicking off with a few small plates (all of the plates at Mercante are sold by weight, giving you a multitude of size options per dish), wholeheartedly described by our lovingly patriotic and inherently clued-up waiter, as fish eater and vegetarian we diced through their crocchette di patate with formaggio and a new cod, potato and polenta crisp dish. Rich and plump with the formaggio, the croquettes were light, melt in the mouth and delightfully crisp; while my charmingly cold cod dish churned with potato (not on the menu yet) was fair, fresh and rich with the pumpkin seeds and polenta crisp adding a sharp snap to the dish. All paired with a sweet yet dry white of warming yellow colour, it's clear that Italian dishes are meant to be picked at, and they're some of the most recognisably fresh plates in the world.
I knew in visiting Mercante that fish was in order, and their plump and subtle sea bream was no letdown. Salt-baked with the casing cracked table-side for authenticity, the fish threw notes of catches by the shore into pure palatable bliss as the dish was light, and honest. My boyfriend tried a sturdy serving of the parmigiani (£7), as Mercante also gave chase in the vegetable department with a stunning blend of tomato marinara, and aubergine that once again paid homage to humble dishes shared with family and friends. Tidying up with a homemade limoncello (of which is meant to be notably green and not yellow in colour) and a stunning flour-less caprese cake with ricotta ice cream, Mercante can't refuse Italian dining heritage and they clearly make it the most important thing they share with diners.
Being found at the Park Lane Hotel on a Sunday, you can imagine how subtle and sophisticated the atmosphere is in Mercante. While the strip outside may have been beeping along with frustrated cabbies and fumes, there's none of that in Mercante as the vibe is welcome and still, clearly reflecting their space inside one of the most luxurious hotels in London. Sure, 3pm didn't hold too much weight in terms of the amount of bums found on seats, but there's something about the sedate and repose dining vibe that I think could wholeheartedly reflect locations such as Sicily as a whole as bustle wouldn't be too much welcome here.
Humble when it comes to cuisine? Nope, I don't actually think Italians are you know. And neither do I think they should be. Not only were the staff at Mercante incredibly proud of their culture and culinary flair, they proved that simple dishes done well and with seasonal ingredients are the mark of true dining artistry.