“What is in this sauce? It’s delicious!” I asked, between insatiable mouthfuls. “Butter, parmesan, pepper…lots, lots, lots!”
I seldom order pasta when dining out. Usually I try and pick an item on the menu that I’m least likely to cook at home, and pasta is a staple in most cupboards. Even in the nicest restaurants, pasta often lacks a certain something; be it freshness, imagination or simply the labour of love. However, when I heard about Padella (through the mouth-watering Instagram feeds of my friends and fellow Londoners) I was desperate to try it out. Last week, before a showing at the Backyard Cinema’s Winter Night Garden, I ventured to London Bridge, and I’ve been dreaming about Pici cacio & Pepe ever since.
Rare is the person who does not revel in pasta’s carb-laden embrace; it is the ultimate comfort food. Padella is simple, unpretentious and most importantly downright delicious. Even before 6pm on a Thursday evening queues have already started to form, though I do wonder to what extent the queuing system is carefully designed to encourage intrigue and promote the hot-demand reputation that Padella has earned since opening in Spring; when we left at around 6:30pm there were several empty tables despite the ever-growing queue of hungry Londoners outside.
The upstairs is small and sleek, bar-stools surround a marble counter overlooking the open galley kitchen where attractive young men with Shoreditch beards hand-roll fresh, wriggly pici worms and pad ravioli with Neal’s Yard goats curd and marjoram butter. Downstairs, the atmosphere is cosier with rustic wooden tables and a bar which couples are seated at. Service is attentive without being too keen or overbearing; the restaurant feels very European.
The menu is short and sweet, and I want to order everything on it. Starting at only £5 a pasta dish it’s tempting to do so, too. We begin with bread and oil, great hunks of rustic, floury sourdough are carved on the counter in front of us and served alongside Puglia olive oil. The drinks menu is equally as uncomplicated; two whites, two reds, two beers and a small selection of Aperitivi’s. Both the wine and beer are on tap and subsequently the former starts at just £3.50 a glass, though a few pricier bottles are advertised on a specials chalk-board. Settling down with a locally brewed Five Point Pils (4.00) and an Aperol Spritz (6.50), we ordered the Pici cacio & Pepe (6.50) and the Tagliarini with Dorset crab, chilli and lemon (12.00).
While the crab tagliarini is good; fresh and delicate, the pici is outstanding. Like a hot, buttery hug on a plate; the dough – made only of flour and water and hand-crafted into thick Tuscan rolls, like fat spaghetti, not too dissimilar to udon noodles – is drenched in sticky sweet butter, robust tasting pecorino romano and oodles of cracked black pepper. It’s warm, it’s sexy and it’s utterly mouthwatering.
Owned by Tim Siadatan and Jordan Frieda, following Highbury’s “It’s great – if you can get a table” Trullo, the restaurant is located on the edge of Borough Market on Southwark Street, a stones throw from London Bridge station. Don’t be put off by the queues, they’re fast moving and the taste is worth the patience; the overall experience is relatively brisk, we were in and out within 40 minutes, though the atmosphere is laid-back and unhurried. There have been no indications as of yet of an expansion, though in the hope that they do intend to roll-out across the city I live in hope that they find a cushty spot south of the river. My bank account and my waistline live in fear.
Padella, 6 Southwark Street, London SE1; no reservations. Open all week, noon-10pm (5pm Sun)