We Brits love our pasta! I don’t think it’s an understatement to say it’s become a staple in most homes, as a quick, versatile and delicious meal that’s usually very affordable to boot. So it’s a little surprising that there aren’t more specialist pasta restaurants – by which I mean restaurants focusing on fresh handmade pasta and excellent sauces, rather than pasta being one section of a wider Italian menu. Indeed many of the London restaurants most-often lauded for great pasta fall into that category — Bocca di Lupo, Cafe Murano, Caldesi, Locanda Locatelli, River Cottage, Trullo…
But it seems that it’s finally the time for pasta to stand on its own farfalle with places like Burro e Salvia, Padella, and Flour & Grape, making pasta the stelle of the show. (OK, stop groaning, I’m done with the bad puns now!)
One of an array of excellent restaurants along or near Bermondsey Street, Flour & Grape’s corner location means lots of windows letting in lots of light. Walls are exposed red brick, tables and floors are wooden and seating is padded chairs, benches and stools covered in dark red and beige leather. It’s comfortable and attractive with space for 60 covers. Downstairs is still home to 214 Bermondsey, a gin and cocktail bar.
Long time residents or visitors to the area will know the site already; Flour & Grape takes over from its predecessor Antico (another Italian restaurant much-lauded for its pasta), and indeed this new pasta peddler is from the same owner manager (Nick Crispini) and head chef (Adam Czmiel) as Antico. A more narrowly focused menu, plus the addition of bar seating and a takeaway offering will allow the restaurant to rein in costs, both for ingredients and staff – the wider a menu, the more specialist sections are needed in a kitchen.
So what does Flour & Grape offer? Well, there’s pasta, of course! And wine — an affordable, low mark-up Italian wine list with 25 available by the glass, and lots of less well known regional offerings. To supplement, a handful of antipasti and a few gelati and sorbetti flavours to finish, and tea and coffee, of course!
With that gin bar downstairs, it’s no surprise that Flour & Grape offer a Bermondsey G&T (£6) as one of the apperitivi at the top of the menu. The combination of Jensen’s Bermondsey gin, Bermondsey Tonic Water and Bermondsey Tonic Syrup is awfully good! By the way, the latter two products were created by Nick Crispini and fellow gin lover Lawrence Mason for pairing with the many gins on offer in the downstairs bar and are also available to buy via the BTW online shop.
On to the food…
Our waitress (and the menu too) recommend 3 small plates per 2 guests, and the same (3 per 2) on the pasta (which is served in 90 gram portions). We are really keen to try as many of the pastas as we can, so we go for two small plates and four pastas, a little greedy but what the heck!
First, Burrata, prosciutto braciotto (£6) – a lovely slice of superbly soft and creamy burrata, drizzled with olive oil and a crack or two of the pepper mill, and a generous portion of thick sliced ham.
Next, a beautifully balanced salad of Endive, pear, gorgonzola, pine nuts (£5), the perfect example of how a few good quality ingredients can become more than the sum of their parts.
On to the pasta, all four plates arrive at the same time allowing for a direct comparison on shapes, textures, and the flavour of their respective sauces or fillings….
The Fazzoletti with spinach, mascarpone, nutmeg (£7) is the simplest of the four we chose, the ‘handkerchief’ pasta sheets dressed in a basic cream cheese spinach sauce. The nutmeg is not much in evidence, which makes for a dish that sounds a little too plain… And yet, this is the dish that grows on us most as we circle from plate to plate. With so few ingredients, the quality of each really shines.
The Gigli with sausage ragu (£8) offers the perfect balance of meaty sauce to pasta — I’m not a fan of the British tendency to drown pasta in a sauce, I think a little goes a long way, especially when the pasta itself is so good. The sausage is satisfyingly full of flavour.
The filling in the Tortelloni of roasted pork shoulder with sage butter (£10) is utterly fabulous, soft and juicy, richly flavoured, generously stuffed. The niggles with for this dish are that the pasta is undercooked (beyond al dente and into hard) and there’s hardly any sage in the butter so its flavour doesn’t come through much. Still utterly delicious because of that pork, but would benefit from teeny tweaks.
If I ate nothing but the Reginette with tiger prawn, prawn bisque and basil (£10) every day for the next month I would be fortunate indeed! The combination of frilly ribbons of pasta with fat juicy prawns and intensely flavoured prawn bisque is a truly winning one. The only thing I would change about this dish is to serve it on a magic plate that refills itself as soon as it’s empty!
The Clementine sorbetto (£5) is just okay; it’s shockingly sweet (and I have a sweet tooth!) and the flavour doesn’t come through clearly at all. Clementines are my favourite citrus fruit so I was really hoping for a ding ding ding rather than a whisper of generic citrus boosted with sugar.
Dessert recovers though, when we try the one non-gelato offering, a Chocolate & hazelnut budino with sea salt (£4) and it’s a good one, like a posh version of Nutella. I love a good gianduja pudd so this is quite a treat, rich and thick and just the right amount to satisfy after all that pasta.
Flour & Grape is the kind of restaurant that makes me wish I lived in one of these trendier neighbourhoods of London — the ones blessed with fantastic restaurant after fantastic restaurant — rather than my little corner of suburbia in north London. To have this quality of cooking, available both eat in and takeaway, at such affordable prices, would be a wonderful thing indeed. That said, the food here is definitely good enough to travel for so even if you’re not Bermondsey based, do go and visit – you won’t regret it!
Kavey Eats dined as review guests of Flour & Grape restaurant.