Daphne’s is a grande dame of a restaurant. The eponymous Daphne was a flamboyant casting director with a throaty laugh and a vivacious personality who held raucous house parties round the corner in her home in Pelham Crescent. Her links to the theatrical world made Daphne’s a favourite with acting luminaries – including Laurence Olivier and Alex Guinness – in the Sixties. After a period under the Danish-born restauranteur, Mogens Tholstrup, the golden boy of the early 1990s restaurant scene, during which time it was regularly frequented by Princess Diana, who pronounced it one of her favourite restaurants, it moved into the Le Caprice stable, under Richard Caring. “Daphne’s has been at the forefront of the party and society columns throughout its rich and colourful history,” Caring has said.
In its current iteration, Daphne’s has retained much of the pizzazz of its glittering past. That’s not to say that it’s glitzy or gaudy, but it has a inimitably effervescent ambiance – imbued on it by the colourful character of its original founder, perhaps. Located on a chichi street straddling South Kensington and Chelsea in which the glitterati come to shop and sweat (London’s most expensive gym, KX, is across the road), Daphne’s, perched like a little golden jewel box, casts a welcoming glow onto the pavements. Inside, the atmosphere is at once cosy and refined: think pink marble bar, squishy banquettes, bold modern murals, expensive woods, and, at the back, a tented room that feels like a garden. During the summer months, the concertina doors fold open on to the passeggiata of Draycott Avenue, which enhances the sense of spaciousness.
Unlike many trendy restaurants in the area, it has retained a neighbourhood feel. Locals like to eat here. The demographic may have shifted somewhat, since the Sixties (you won’t find many theatre folk living in SW3 these days), but it feels as though most of the people dining here have strolled in from nearby. On the evening that my husband and I visit – a Thursday in August, a month post lockdown – the place is buzzing.
Daphne’s has adapted to the pandemic-stricken world it has found itself in prodigiously well. The COVID-19 formalities are dealt with efficiently, with a sleek temperature sensor cleverly embedded in a camera swiftly snapping each guest, and a waiter on standby to usher patrons to their allocated places. The hand sanitiser on each table looks like an exquisitely crafted perfume bottle and is delicately branded.
The food is Italian, and the dishes are unpretentious, generously portioned and crowd pleasing. My husband and I enjoyed starters of garlic-slicked, fleshy scallops and unctuously cheese-coated aubergine parmigiana. Mains of moist, buttery veal Milanese and cod with fregola, crab and zucchini came next, followed by diet-be-damned desserts of delightfully frothy zabaglione and velvety tiramisu. The food is reassuringly unchallenging, and faultlessly executed.
Overall, Daphne’s delivers what its local clientele really wants; reliably excellent, authentic Italian food served by charming staff in a convivial, unpretentious, yet effortlessly sophisticated setting. One can’t help but feel that Daphne would feel proud of her namesake – and so she should.
Daphne’s, 112 Draycott Avenue, Chelsea, London, SW3 3AE, England.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7589 4257
The restaurant is five minutes’ walk from South Kensington Tube station (Piccadilly, Circle and District Lines). There are parking meter bays outside the restaurant: £3 per hour 8:30am-6:30pm. Resident permit bay times: Monday-Friday 8:30am-10:00pm, Saturday: 8:30am-6:30pm and Sunday 1:00pm-5:00pm.
Daphne’s is open Monday to Saturday from 12 noon to 10:00pm and Sunday from 12 noon to 9:30pm.
Type of Restaurant: Modern Neighbourhood Italian Restaurant
Price Band: High
Insider Tip: Try the zabaglione, it is simply sublime.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Elisabeth Rushton is a former banker who swapped her career in equity sales for journalism and has over a decade of experience as a luxury lifestyle and travel writer.
Photographs by Jean Cazals