Review: The Franklin Restaurant by Alfredo Russo

Richard Brown

2 January 2020

An under-the-radar hotel-restaurant in South Kensington might just serve the most sophisticated Italian in London

Russo’s signature dishes have recently been bolstered by a new selection of simply-does-it seasonal plates

2 January 2020 | Richard Brown

Quintessentially English on the outside, voluptuously Italian on the inside, The Franklin Hotel is Colin Firth from the street and Gina Lollobrigida from reception. Opened by family-run, Florence-headquartered Starhotels in 2016, the 35-bedroom property is four Victorian townhouses knocked into one on Knightsbridge’s elegant Egerton Crescent (a five minute-stroll from South Kensington tube station). There’s little from the hotel’s rigid, red brick facade to point towards the elaborate glamour within, save for a small navy flag with an ‘F’ printed in the middle. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Forty years ago, when actress-turned-hotelier Anouska Hempel opened Blakes Hotel (also in South Ken) in 1978, the zeitgeisty guesthouse was touted as the world’s first bona fide five-star boutique hotel. Four decades later, Hempel returned to SW7 to inject her signature style, and meticulous eye for detail, into The Franklin. The result is a small, hyper-stylish space of different levels, dark corridors, filigree furniture, heavy stone floors, deep velvet armchairs and a moody, monochrome colour palette that’s as cosy and comforting as it is sultry and seductive.

The bar at The Franklin London

The Franklin’s la dolce vita credentials are helped by the fact that its bar is headed by Italian compatriots Filippo Tacchi and Luca Milesi, both of whom left Chiltern Firehouse to helm what must surely be one of London’s chicest – and under-the-radar – drinking dens. Within a classically-attuned cocktail list, Messrs Tacchi and Milesi have devised an Old Fashioned that blends rye whisky with bourbon and mixes the result with chocolate-flavoured water – it’s magic.

The Italian theme continues into The Franklin Restaurant, which is overseen by Michelin-star chef Alfredo Russo. Named Italy’s ‘Best Young Chef’ by the L’Espresso Guide in 2004, then aged just 22, Russo has subsequently built up a reputation for inventive Italian cooking via stints at some of Europe’s most illustrious Michelin-starred restaurants.

The Franklin Restaurant's executive head chef Alfredo Russo
The Franklin Restaurant's executive head chef Alfredo Russo

The space itself is glitzy, Gatsby-esque and lined with oversized gilded-mirrors – best to choose a window seat if you don’t like eating while staring at your own reflection. There are only 30 covers, so it’s intimate – ideal for a date.   

The four cheese - Toma, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano and Taleggio - potato gnocchi
The Franklin's low-temperature guinea fowl, squash and chestnuts
Baked cannoli filled with apple, hazelnut and cinnamon, served with granny smith apple sorbet

Russo’s signature dishes – which include slow-cooked octopus with Piedmont potato foam, and a vegetable soup made with more than 18 vegetables – were recently bolstered by a new selection of seasonal plates. A four-cheese bronze, silver and gold-gilded potato gnocchi might have been the best thing I ate in 2019. The hen tortelli with Parmigiano fondue and lime zest wasn’t far behind. The chestnut cake with mascarpone cream is a wonderfully warm and wintery way to finish.

Unlike its surroundings, the menu at The Franklin Restaurant keeps things simple. Honest dishes have minimal ingredients. Flavour does the talking. It may not have the star pull of London’s better-known Italians but make no mistake, The Franklin serves some of the finest Italian in the capital.

The Franklin Restaurant by Alfredo Russo, 24 Egerton Gardens, SW3,