If you live in London, and think of pasta, you’ll likely think of Padella. This buzzing little brand offers little else, and is famed for its branch in Borough Market, its perpetual, Q.R. code-controlled queue snaking along Southwark Street, its zero-tolerance policy towards reservations. Luckily, its sister restaurant in Shoreditch is a little more relaxed in this respect, and so off we went for an early dinner in deepest, darkest January.
I’ve never been to Padella. It’s been around long enough, its founders Jordan Frieda and Tim Siadatan opening up in Borough in 2016, so I’m not really sure how it’s taken me this long to visit. The European has been already, and she loved it. She was dying to take me, or maybe it was just a chance to eat herself back to humanness after a busy day at her Chinese performing arts. Either way, I was game.
It was 5.30 p.m., and roadworks had doubled our nine-minute walk from Liverpool Street to Padella. Nevertheless, it’s lovely to get lost in this part of London, wandering north past the office buildings as they give way into the repurposed tenements, warehouses and hidden-away churches that make Shoreditch what it is. Our starry eyes give way to pangs of hunger; we haven’t eaten since breakfast in anticipation of a lot of pasta.
Despite the early hour, Padella was rocking. The industrial, open space was full, and we were lucky to have a couple of seats at the kitchen counter, which, as I said last time out at Bocca Di Lupo, is easily the best place to be. Service was quick, and we had a couple of glasses of orange wine in our paws quicker than you can say “Hang on, what’s happened to the prices here?”.
The European was the first to notice the price hikes, but we were too hungry to pay it much mind. The conciseness of Padella’s menu means that you’re not going to take long to order. We went light on the starters, and of the six on offer (one being olives and one being focaccia, so four in reality), shared a winter tomato bruschetta. The chunky slices of off-colour tomatoes were seasoned perfectly and draped across warm sourdough like a beloved blanket.
Stomachs lined, it was time to go heavy on the pasta, the only main course on offer. There are ten options to choose from. We selected a classic pici cacao e pepe, tagliarini with chilli, garlic and pangrattato, pappardelle with eight-hour Dexter beef shin ragù, and more tagliarini, this time with Dorset crab, chilli and lemon. Like animals escaping a flood, the plates arrived two-by-two.
The four pastas were more than enough food – we were feeling full after finishing the first two dishes. These first two – the duo of linguini-like tagliarini – got us worried. The European was especially perturbed. The Dorset crab was tasteless and needed a lot of salt (all I got was lemon, and she didn’t even taste that). The European felt that the chilli and garlic option dish was better, but I found the gratin-like pangrattato to be grainy and dry, forcing me to neck a whole bottle of water to stop my mouth pursing up like a cat’s arsehole.
In no more need for food (we’re good little urchins and cleared the first two plates), we struggled through the ragù and cacio e pepe. In hindsight, it was probably for the best that these were served last, as they were awesome and therefore motivated us to keep eating. Despite its horrifically unappetising grey hue, the cacio e pepe tasted great, way better than the offering at Bocca Di Lupo. The ragù was heavenly; rich, and hearty – just like The European remembered from her first visit – and, unlike many other examples in London, you can taste and appreciate the exceptional quality of ingredients.
We agreed not to have a dessert, and therefore The European’s face when I ordered a tiramisu to share was an absolute picture. She might have claimed I have no shame, but she enjoyed it just as much as me. It was lovely, one of the better ones I have tasted recently, and falling just short of the benchmark set by Gloria.
I enjoyed my evening. I especially loved the ragù and cacio e pepe, the kitchen seating was amazing and the wines from the tap are delicious. The European was less sure, bemoaning Padella ditching its U.S.P. of “Some of the best pasta you’re ever going to eat for under a tenner a dish” to more premium prices of around £fifteen each. For that price point, you can eat better pasta in London.
I can’t blame Padella for this sorry state of affairs. I missed the boat; I should have visited years ago. But on the same week where writers celebrate the imminent demise of fine dining now that Noma is closing, we also need to take time to lament the reality that, thanks to the way things are in the U.K. right now, amazing cheap eats in London will become harder to find. But, just like making a reservation at Padella, crucially not impossible.
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Visited on 14th Jan 2023.
£one hundred and twenty for two glasses of wine, a carafe of wine, one starter, four pastas, and one dessert.