The lack of proper pasta restaurants in London was always something that bemused me. Even putting Italy to one side for a moment, I’d been to great little places across the continent and in assorted US cities that made their own pasta, a handful of simple, delicious sauces, and sent you back into the real world happy, well fed and, generally, with lots of change from a twenty.
From a business perspective alone, it surely had to make sense in London? I’ve made fresh pasta a number of times and what you can do with six eggs and a bag of flour is miraculous: ok, it’s not quite loaves and fishes quantities, but that little still goes a long way. It is a little bit of a palaver though in the average London domestic kitchen and I was itching to give someone a moderate share of my hard earned in return for a dish of tasty comfort eating.
And then we suddenly caught up. Padella is still packing them in at Borough, Stevie Parle’s Pastaio is doing similar things off Carnaby Street and, most recently, Bancone joins the fray. And while I’m not saying I could tell any of them apart blindfolded, for the room and lack of queue alone, I’d say the latter has the edge.
Walk past in the morning, and you’ll see them making beautiful fresh pasta. Visit at lunchtime and you’ll see the pasta roller back in its (glass fronted) cupboard as they’re forced to make the most of the eccentrically shaped room. As it is, the various counters – bancone translates as counter or bar – and the length of the room gives a very pleasing buzz to the place, the open kitchen is great to watch, and the menu is short but very hard to negotiate: there’s not a thing on it I wouldn’t want to eat.
It takes a while but we eventually whittle down the options to a sensible number of choices. Burrata – ridiculously fresh – comes on Delica pumpkin and amaretti. “It’s a savoury cheesecake,” says my companion, and it is, although that’s really not a complaint. Even better though is the charred hispi cabbage, chilli, garlic and 2017 Planeta olive oil: yes, it’s the first time I’ve been told the oil’s vintage too. Make of that what you will, but it’s a dish that, thanks to the saucing and texture of the leaves, feels like a playful take on pasta, and has us working out how to slightly burn cabbage on a domestic hob because, well, it’s just blooming delicious.
While we contemplate choosing a pasta each and one for the table, we err on the side of caution and decide to come back to try the eight choices we miss. Instead, we settle on the already much Instagrammed “Silk handkerchiefs, walnut butter and confit egg yolk”, and the “Slow cooked 10-hour oxtail ragu with pappardelle.” The former is as tasty as it is pretty, the latter is a warm, beefy hug of a dish, that sits well with my small glass of bargainous Primitivo from the short, but decent and great value, wine list.
Dessert – Gianduja chocolate, mascarpone and hazelnut – is pleasant enough but a little underwhelming compared to the simple delights that preceded it. Coffee, however, is very good indeed. The campaign to get Bancone to roll out across London starts here…