Augustus Harris, Covent Garden
Augustus Harris offers cichetti, crostini and spritz in a Ventian bàcari replanted in Covent Garden. So far so sophisticated, but what’s cicchetti, what’s bàcari, and what’s it doing in Covent Garden, you fellow ignoramuses may well ask? Carbs and cocktails imbued with romance and taste, it turns out, and much of them.
In a sympathetically lit, subterranean cavern, wavy-haired blondes in Ralph Lauren pullovers bray good-humouredly with gilded girls of an Italian hue. But this is Covent Garden, not Chelsea. There are no snobs. Everyone’s welcome and anyone would fit in, although, for the moment, it appears that only those in the loop know it’s there. And long may it last, for Augustus Harris is rather small and, more to the point, too good to share. Even on a Wednesday night, tables are cluttered with people swapping tales of their yoga and polo regime.
In keeping with the Italian, family-run feel, to my left the owner was holding court with some friends. Charles McDermott fled a job in finance some years ago to move to New York and learn to cook, returning to start up Augustus Harris, inspired by a university year abroad in Italy. He is toff’s totty with the transatlantic drawl of someone well-holidayed and full of tales as an upstart start-up on the London restaurant scene. Estate agents failed to return his calls when he sought a letting; others doubted that England’s small-minded inhabitants would respond well to foreign words etched onto the windows. He seems to have followed his instincts with some tenacity: speakers pump out a soulful soundtrack to his ‘80s childhood and ‘90s youth, all Men at Work, Boyz II Men, and in spite of a window dressing advertising ‘alimentari’ he seems to have no shortage of custom.
Stracchiatella, if nothing else. This bowl of cool buffalo milk mozzarella, served with warm rosemary focaccia, is the perfect dish. Like the cheese, cocktails are as smooth and fragrant as can be. Pepper vodka and basil (the ‘Basilico’), gin and rosemary (‘Rosmarino’), Campari and Aperol spritzes are all reasonably priced by London standards at £8 each. Order a baguette’s worth of crostini, each heaped with an imaginative topping, like mackerel with pickled red onion or gorgonzola with pear, grapes and honey. The Tiramisu hits you in the back of the throat
with its cocoa dusting leaving you coughing and spluttering, but who cares? You’ll die happy having tasted it.
The place could overwhelm a yet-to-be-convinced first encounter with its romance – leave this to date two or three; or ask for seats at the ground-floor bar rather than venturing into the subterranean cavern.
It only stays open till 11pm. Well-brought up boys and new kids on the block, they don’t want to irritate the neighbours – not for now at least, they may succumb to pressure from happy customers.
5. The loos are unisex, tasteful, spacious…