Hot Plates: The Dover

Interior of The Dover restaurant, tables set up ready for service

If The Lady and the Tramp’s famed spaghetti scene was set outside The Dover, it’d be less of an ‘aww, their noses touched’ moment and more of a fight over the last meatball. This is a restaurant where you will want to keep every forkful of comforting, carb-heavy cooking for yourself.

Bowl of chilli and parsley spaghetti

What’s surprising about this sentiment is we’re talking about a restaurant on one of the most expensive streets in Mayfair – a postcode that distinctly lacks laidback, neighbourhood bistros. But, in many ways, The Dover doesn’t feel like a Mayfair restaurant at all – which is exactly why it’s popular.

Martin Kuczmarski sitting in his restaurant drinking a cocktail

To fill you in on the basics: this is a New York-style Italian that quietly opened on Dover Street at the back end of last year. It’s the first solo project by Martin Kuczmarski, who spent 16 years at the forefront of Soho House and – as you might expect – knows a thing or two about making spaces that people want to spend time in. It doesn’t have an Instagram presence, its reservations book is leather bound and handwritten, and, until recently, you had to call if you wanted a table.

But none of that prepares you for the moment the red velvet curtain is swooshed back and you feel like you’ve fallen into a film set. Kuczmarski has been quoted as saying that the restaurant is styled on Sophia Loren in the ‘70s and every detail fits that theme – from the stacks of vinyls to the double tablecloths on every cover. We’re ushered past the clackity calamity of a long, thin, attractive bar (a dirty martini here is practically pre-ordained) and into the smooth, velvety dining room, whose candle-topped tables are completely full. At 6pm on a Wednesday (the only time we could secure a booking – it’s that popular).

Bowl of ravioli

The scene is further set by the man at the table next to us who, after taking his first slurp of spaghetti, declares: ‘That is outrageously good. That is a desert island dish right there.’

It’s safe to say our expectations were sitting somewhere in the stratosphere. So, taking cues from the candles and wood panels, we order a glass of red each and let the Italian-American good times roll.

The first thing to grace our table is beef tartare – a tricolore of matchsticked apples, delicately seared chunks of beef, and a pile of parsnip crisps, wafer thin and providing the much-needed crunch. Then, a wedge of Italian sausage pie, with tight layers of cavolo nero and spongy sausage, encased in a perfectly crisp pastry and served with jus-rippled mash.

Italian sausage pie with tight layers of cavolo nero and spongy sausage, encased in a perfectly crisp pastry and served with jus-rippled mash

Next, a battle to the bottom of a parmigiana ‘Americanata’, which turns out to be a lasagne-style pile of meaty aubergines and pasta sheets, swimming in a lake of parmesan fondue. And finally, the meatballs, crowning a pile of rich, tomatoey spaghetti and sprinkled with black pepper from a comically large pepper mill that looks like a chess piece. It’s homely and heartwarming; the kind of thing you could almost imagine your granny whipping up (if Granny happened to be a dab hand at emulsions).

Creamed potato centred on the plate, surrounded by cuts of medium rare beef

And that, we realise, is the charm of The Dover. Its dishes are designed for comfort and conviviality rather than Instagram and influencers – it’s food you want to eat, in a dining room you want to spend time in. Just don’t try to share the spaghetti.

An irresistible Nutella pudding, that’s been half eaten