When you walk into O'Sole Mio, the clockwork routine put on by the waiters begins and it is something they must have done hundreds of time before. Within seconds of sitting down, you are asked if you would like bread. They must have had complaints the the past about having to pay extra for it as there's a laminated sign on the bread basket that tells you how much it will cost you.
That's not the only laminated piece of card available to you - the menu itself is set squarely under your plate behest the plastic-covered table. It's not tacky; rather this is a restaurant with old school charm. The specials of gnocci, of fresh grilled sardines, of pizza with ricola and speck appear on a white board, which the waiter gestures to. Posters for old Italian cars, a photo on the wall of the staff with a miscellaneous celebrity and a rather strange small painting of a clown adorn the walls.
I sat within reach of the pudding fridge, a tall glass contraption with gold trim, the like of which you would see in restaurants when on holiday in Europe. On the circular plates of glass were mounds of chocolate mousse, and a platter of delicious-looking tirimisu. As a pudding person, it suited me to keep having a sneak peak of what might come next. It was also a pleasure to watch the waiters scooping dollops out at a little dessert preparation counter.
The menu itself is a mix of pizza, pasta and meat dishes, all priced around £9-10 except for a steak dish at around £20, but then that's probably to be expected. I chose the canneloni with spinach and ricotta. If you have ever had this in ready-meal form, this dish won't be what you are expecting. Made in the traditional way with pancakes stuffed with cheese, rather then pasta, with a cheese sauce melted over the top, this was rich and indulgent. I had tried to make it in this way with pancakes myself and knew how much time and effort had gone into the dish. Paired with a glass of house red (you can get 350ml or half a bottle for £7), it was like an Italian hug in a bowl. The fresh herbs really lifted it, giving it some needed freshness.
All around, my fellow man were devouring dishes that I wish I could have tried. A platter of avocado, mozzarella and tomatoes; a veal escalope beat thinly, breaded and served with spaghetti in tomato sauce; beef carpaccio shining ruby red. The service is a mixed bag: some waiters were more grumpy and fast moving than others, but another lived up to the translation of "O'Sole Mio" - "my sunshine" and was delightful. This is a relaxed, buzzy restaurant where you will be asked if you'd like pepper from an oversized grinder and a little bowl of parmesan will appear.
Located near Victoria station, the clientèle seemed to be an equal mix of locals and tourists, owing to the many hotels in the area but this is far from a tourist trap. It's a great place for people-watching and I hope to come again with a bigger group to stay awhile, making our way through three courses. There's much made of greeting at the door, with "Ciao, Ciao" carrying across, and the proprietor standing behind a desk a la Fawlty Towers. Come and experience the warm greeting, and stay for the flavoursome homely meals and reasonable prices.
Meal for two at O'Sole Mio, main course and wine, including tip £28.