A taste of Italy 1: cocktails and food at Assaggetti

Anyone who has looked for a bite to eat when going to see the Phantom will remember Galileo’s. The Italian restaurant opened in London’s Haymarket 14 years ago, next door to Her Majesty’s Theatre which has been home to Phantom of the Opera since 1986. The owners, Metropolitan Restaurants, have now completely revamped Galileo’s and, this summer, launched it as Assaggini, an Italian restaurant specialising in small tapas-like sharing dishes. From October 3, the name will change to Assaggetti due to another restaurant expressing concern about the similarity of names. Both words are Italian for “a selection of small dishes”, and it offers a wide range of delicious, freshly prepared plates of fish, meat, vegetables and salads.

The redesign, by Grafico and Rory Cashin Design, has produced a more modern, lighter interior, featuring big oak tables and flooring, earthy colours and vintage mirrors with aged gilt frames as well as a large Phillips and Wood glass chandelier suspended over the central stairwell down to the basement dining area. The two-storey venue is very much a restaurant but a drinks list has been created to make it as much a destination for cocktails and wine as it is for food. As manager Juan Herman explains, they expect drinkers to be unable to resist ordering one or two dishes of Italian snacks.

There is a good selection of Italian wines, including six proseccos and a franciacorta, as well as Italian brandy and plenty of Italian liqueurs including amaro and mirto, the myrtle berry-based liqueur from southern Italy. A short but well-formed cocktail list – headed “aperitivi” – features drinks also loaded with Italian ingredients. These have been devised by mixologist Danny Murphy, one of the team behind the award-winning Aloha bar in Liverpool.

They include classics with a twist ranging from a Negroni, made with gin, Aperol and Carpano Antica vermouth, to an Espresso Martini made with vodka, Galliano L’Autentico, espresso and cardamom. Another of Danny’s creations is the Dolce Amaro mixing Aperol, pink grapefruit liqueur and grapefruit juice, while the Mojito Sbagliato adds Galliano L’Autentico, prosecco and Martini Blanco to the mix of Bacardi, mint and lime juice.

The bar manager is Joanna Mysliwiec whose most recent experience includes the cocktail bar at the Courthouse Doubletree hotel off Regent Street, London. She says she is looking at matching not just wine but also cocktails with food, pairing the Mojito Sbagliato with fish or the Espresso Martini with dessert. “As it is a restaurant, there is huge pressure on the drinks as there is with the food,” she adds. “They have to be fresh and high quality.”

Commenting on the name change, Stefano Fraquelli, founder of Metropolitan Restaurants, says: “We felt it important to change our name now, given the success and the response to our new restaurant. Assaggetti is a more unique name, and has exactly the same meaning as Assaggini, neatly aligning our new restaurant with our existing Getti brand.”

Assaggetti, 71 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4RW Tel: 020 7839 3939 www.assaggini.co.uk

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