Hmmm, so this is a tricky one. How to judge a restaurant when you’re still suffering the after-effects of an ‘action-packed’ weekend? I arrived at Sergio’s in the company of a smattering of family having spent an unexpected night in Lille (one of Duke Ellington’s lesser known late tracks), and then hared back on the train to do a guided tour in the chuffing cold sans breakfast. So I had a headache, I was tired and I was starving hungry. Prejudicial conditions for a benevolent review.
In a way Sergio’s was the perfect place to go to. As I’ve said before traditional Italians, such as you might find described in Powell or Hamilton, are becoming more and more difficult to stumble across in London. Sergio’s is one of a dying breed and to my mind is a perfect example of the genre.
We were seated (gratifyingly) at a round table and the room soon filled up around us with locals and tourists – spillover is accommodated downstairs in a surprisingly large room. The menu was a greatest hits package – Tricolore Salad, Prawn Cocktail and the like for starters with grills, fish, pasta and pizza as mains. My tricolore was big and my pizza was bigger with good, soft bread, chunks of salty anchovy and plenty of olives. I was ravenous but still couldn’t finish it – definitely to share between two if you have a European appetite.
The service was uniformly charming and courteous despite a certain amount of curmudge coming from our side of the relationship. Just the right amount of twinkly facetiousness in the face of a few sarky hand-grenades.
The biggest mystery was the music. Ok, so Dino doing ‘That’s Amore’ on arrival seemed a little clichéd but in a forgivable way. Then the mandolin started again and Dino gave us an encore. And again. And again. Some agitation to my left when even one of the more tone deaf people of my acquaintance began to realise that Amore was on a permanent repeat. For myself I was curious to see how long this experiment in cheesy Minimalism (Chinimalism?) was going to go on.
In fact the enforced listen to ‘That’s Amore’ for a seventh time set up a certain level of excitement as I realised that I was listening to a tune in an old-fashioned way – the way I used to listen to records before I could afford more than one a week. In an age before digital music where the only thing you could listen to was what Mike Read selected or that you had in your own vinyl collection (and who misses those days?!). What did Gedge say there? How DOES Johnny Marr get that guitar sound?
It’s a curious production, ‘That’s Amore’. The opening has a slightly chilling minor chord mandolin riff with a choir singing about some shit in Napoli. Then Dean comes in with a reassuring switch to a major key to sing some clichéd nonsense of what love is for Italians. It’s a metaphor for the subjugation of Italian culture to American kitsch under the cover of a benevolent interest that mirrors the political process consequent to the Allied victory in 1944, and the subsequent requisitioning of the Italian state to US foreign policy goals in the ensuing Cold War.
That’s what I was thinking on the 8th listen anyway.
On the 9th listen Mike to my left was getting restive. I was thinking about how technically perfect Martin’s control of his voice is. He can convey humour and benevolence in a way that the more lauded Sinatra could never do. Could you imagine Sinatra smiling without looking like he was going to knife you?
On the 10th listen I was wondering just exactly what is a ‘Gay Carabella’?
Ok, by the 11th spin I was getting seriously fed up and the question was put to the manager whether Dean Martin hadn’t recorded any other material? He assured us that he had.
‘That’s Amore’ came back on again. We were resigned to our fate. But no! It was just a cheeky little counter-thrust on the part of Sergio’s team and for the next hour we were treated to a 70s megamix featuring KC and the Sunshine Band, The Real Thing and Wilson Picket.
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Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).