Va Bene stops Xintiandi’s more tourist-tacky joints ruining the whole show. It’s warm, smart, and expensive, and filled with contented expats whose immaculate starched shirts suggest they probably don’t think it’s expensive. Tucked away down the eastern network of alleys, it lives the Xintiandi dream – far more than, say, Latina. Inside, terracotta tones with wooden floors also summon up an idealized Italy. The indoor terrace concept to one side, with outdoor umbrellas under a see-through roof and stone doorways attached to the inside, creates an al fresco illusion. You’re ready to be transported.
The food doesn’t quite make the leap. The menu structure is authentic, with traditional dishes like carpaccio, cream of porcini soup, angel hair pasta with prawns and scallops, or a rack of lamb main following Italy’s heritage of simple cuisine. There are fine dining flourishes: A salad of cold sliced veal loin and celery has a tuna dressing; seared goose liver is topped with chianti soaked apples. But while the quality of ingredients is obvious, and the cooking exact – as with a fine, medium rare veal T-bone served on porcini mushroom fritters – something misses. The apple with the goose liver neither lent a tart edge, or a sweetness; the mushroom fritters were just bland. Service on the other hand is well-drilled and detailed (supplying an ashtray each, instead of just one) and the wine list an impressive grand tour of Italy’s regions. But at these prices the experience could do with a bit more flair, not just care.