The newest venture of The Stafford Hotel in St James is a stand-alone venue, with chef Ben Tish at the helm. In a converted 3-storey townhouse in the restaurant heavy neighbourhood of Fitzrovia, Norma is a Sicilian offering, taking inspiration from the theatrical history of the Italian island and flirting with its Moorish past.
In keeping with its location, the interiors are high-end with arches and curved elements throughout the space. Handmade Zelig-tiles form patterns along the architectural arches and help to lend a playful vibe to the serious composure of the dining rooms. All of the seating is comfortably upholstered in a soft velvet evoking the rich tones of the Sicilian streets. The banquettes, for example, range from deep mustard yellows to rich oranges, emanating the colours of the island’s built environment.
Throughout, the decorative lighting brings a low-level intimate feel to the restaurant’s seating areas, with the warm LED strip lighting along the textured walls casting playful shadows. Table lamps gift a premium feel to each table and complement the overhead and wall lights, with their material pallet of textured glass and brass. The bottles in the wine display on the rear wall reflect a warm hue into the restaurant, enticing diners to sample the wines, many of which are Sicilian.
This restaurant is all about the seafood offer. This is immediately demonstrated as you enter by the greeting you receive from the fresh seasonal seafood produce within the Crudo Bar, which is showcased in the front window and curves round into the interior. On entering, the staff are friendly and attentive as they show us to our seats; you can sit either on the ground floor or upstairs, with the top floor reserved for Private Dining and WCs. The staircases have been well thought out, with delicate brass signage used for wayfinding on landings and along the walls.
The menu offer is divided into Snacks, Crudo, Antipasti, Pasta and Mains. We start with some small snacks and the recommended red-prawns from the Crudo Bar, that turns out to be a deliciously delicate way to begin our meal, as they are served raw with a rosemary and orange dressing. The snacks and antipasti are very traditional in their offering, with variations on the typically well-loved Italian classics. We had the house focaccia and olives -both served with amazing olive oil- as well as the saffron arancini and pan-fried artichokes.
As Norma is named after the dish Pasta alla Norma, a traditional Sicilian pasta dish of sautéed eggplant in a rich tomato sauce and topped with ricotta salata, we knew this was a dish we had to try, and we were not disappointed. Additionally, we sampled two other pastas, the heavily instagrammed tagliolini with sardines, fennel, raisins and pine nuts, as well as the ravioli with sheep’s cheese, wilted greens and pistachio pesto. The pasta was well made, successfully displaying the yellow-hue only possible with fresh egg pasta, and the sauces excellently balanced to match.
We didn’t have any room left for the mains, but as always, we made sure to indulge in a dessert-or-two, choosing the almond milk pannacotta with slow-cooked cherries and cherry sorbet, and the traditional Sicilian dessert of cannoli. Both were fantastic options, with the smooth texture and subtle almond flavour of the pannacotta winning our hearts, and taste buds!
Norma is a great place to visit for the food and ambience, a restaurant fit for a special occasion or date night. From great food to an intimate atmosphere, a fantastic time was had, and we will definitely be back.