Rex and Mariano has been making quite an impression since it launched earlier this year. From the same group as famous steak restaurant Goodman and enormously successful proto-chain Burger & Lobster, the new fish and seafood restaurant is named for two key suppliers involved in the venture – Rex Goldsmith aka The Chelsea Fishmonger and Mariano, the semi-anonymous father of a Goodman employee, responsible for importing red prawns and other seafood from Sicily.
Key to the concept is serving seafood at accessible prices, certainly far lower than is the norm in Central London.
In a quiet pedestrian street that runs between Dean and Wardour, Rex and Mariano is already a Soho favourite, despite it’s tucked-away location.
One innovation I thought I’d hate in fact worked very well; orders are placed directly by customers by way of an iPad, though a traditional printed menu is provided on arrival as well. The interface has been well designed – swipe sideways to page through the menu sections, touch a plus button to select an item, enter a quantity and tick to add to your order. An easy-to-find banner button allows you to call for assistance at any time, whether you have questions about the menu or simply need more cutlery. At any time, you can view your total bill thus far and you can review your current order before placing. It’s best to order a few dishes at a time, since most arrive very quickly indeed.
We had to laugh when, mere moments after discussing our greediness, we placed a second order only to be interrupted with a message that our order was “getting quite large” and we might like to send some through now and order more “in a bit”. We took heed and ensured each round was limited to three or four dishes.
Most of the menu is, as you’d imagine, fish and seafood. But I am a sucker for good burrata not to mention good tomatoes. The burrata, smoked tomato, focaccia (£6) was superbly creamy, with just the right level of smoking to fresh, ripe tomatoes and the focaccia served simply to provide a crisp toast underneath.
The raw fish page is split into Ceviche, Tartare and Carpaccio, each of which feature tuna and sea bass. Salmon and lobster also make an appearance. Our salmon carpaccio, olive oil, lemon, tomato and basil (£7.50) is fresh, simple and benefits from a light touch with the dressing.
Lobster ceviche with coriander, fennel, yuzu, orange (£12) is very generous for the price. Large and juicy chunks of lobster meat and thin slices of crunchy fennel are deliciously dressed with coriander leaves and a yuzu orange dressing – both MiMi and I are big fans.
Oh the red prawns from Sicily! Red prawns raw/ cooked, lemon, olive oil, salt (£10) – doesn’t that make you salivate? We might have ordered this dish twice. OK, fine, we did. And to be honest, we could probably have eaten a third plate quite happily had we not agreed to restrain ourselves just a tiny bit! Also available cooked, we opted for the raw option both times and were blown away by the sweet, sweet flavour – lovely against the slightly grassy olive oil.
Clams, white wine, parsley, chilli (£7) were simply cooked and decent. If I’m not sounding excited, don’t take it as an indication that they were anything less than delicious – they just had a lot of strong competition! Perhaps a bowl of soft fresh bread to sop up the juices might be welcome with these.
Sicilian Large Stripe Prawns, lemon, red chilli, parsley, olive oil (£14) were another favourite. Expensive for four prawns yes, though each one was pretty large. The tails were perfectly cooked to retain their juiciness and sucking out the heads of these beauties was an absolute must! We ordered this dish twice too and although the prawns were larger second time around, there was a dearth of the delicious sauce that drenched the first plate and added such excellent flavour.
Fritto Misto, old bay, lemon aioli (£9) – oddly listed under the Grill section of the menu – was very good, as good as I’ve had in London. It suffered in comparison against the revelatory raw and cooked prawn dishes and that lobster ceviche but that’s probably a little unfair. Ours had plenty of squid rings and tentacles (I love the tentacles best), whitebait and white fish but only one solitary prawn on the entire plate.
We probably shouldn’t have bothered with either the fried courgettes with aioli (£5) or the triple cooked chips (£4) though again, both were very good. Our focus was firmly on the fishy goodness and the vegetables didn’t get much of a look in.
For dessert we skipped the proffered lemon sorbet or chocolate mousse and went back to the raw red prawns and cooked red stripe prawns – a fitting end to a delicious meal.
The homemade Limoncello offered by the manager (after a minor mix up over leftovers) was a fitting finale, and vastly better than cheap commercial versions.
Service was friendly throughout; although the iPad ordering system reduces staff and customer interaction to an extent, staff are attentive and readily available should you need them. A nice touch is that service is added at only 5% – presumably staff can service a lot more tables when focusing on bringing out dishes and clearing away empties.
I mentioned at the start that Rex and Mariano offers seafood at accessible prices and that’s certainly true. That’s not to say this is a cheap restaurant, especially if you’re as greedy for great seafood as MiMi and I, but the quality of ingredients is superb and the prices for what you get are very reasonable. Our bill, with one soft drink each, was just shy of £50 each, though we could have knocked ten off that and still been satiated.
Thank you to MiMi Aye for additional images.