Italian food is often at is best when kept simple. Beautiful, vibrant flavours if great ingredients are used. The River Café (on the Thames in Hammersmith) has played a bit part in bringing simple, yet high-end Italian food to London. It was founded over 25 years ago, and is a rather iconic part of the restaurant scene (with fabulous cookbooks too). It is rather pricey though – I haven’t yet been, but would love to go (another to add to my list – not enough time or money to quite get through it!).
There are a few newer places that have been hyped as having similarly pared back and delicious Italian food, but rather cheaper than the River Café. Zucca on Bermondsey Street has been much lauded, which has meant every time I have thought to book, there has been no space. The Table Café, just behind the Tate Modern on Southwark Street, has also been mentioned as having a similar offering.
The Table Café was founded 7 years ago, and has recently undergone a progression with the new chef (ex Duck Soup, Angela Hartnett and Zucca). I went last Saturday evening for an early supper – we were the first to get there just after 6pm, and the warm focaccia with a shiny, salty olive oil crust was a great start.
From the smaller plates, we shared a light and summery dish of grilled octopus with fregola (Sardinian pasta that’s a little like giant couscous), tomato and basil (£7.50), and chopped lardo and rosemary on sourdough toast (£6). Lardo seems to be one of the current on-trend ingredients (I’ve seen it on a few menus, and there's even a restaurant in Hackney named after it). It’s cured strips of fat, so is essentially fancier sounding lard as the name suggests. A little bit was tasty with the rosemary, but rather too rich and fatty (surprisingly enough), even shared between three.
For the mains, the roast pork belly (£14.50) was juicy, with the little castelluccio lentils brought alive with the salsa verde served alongside – not the softest pork belly tried, but a good meat to fat ratio. The potato gnocchi with gorgonzola and toasted hazelnuts (£12) were soft pillows in the mellow sauce (I hate blue cheese but liked it), but a little rich (probably to be expected from the description).
The homemade parpadelle was delicious comfort food with the meaty Tuscan sausage and chicken liver ragu (£13) – not too livery, and with plenty of parmesan (the perfect antidote to a lot of cheap white wine at my work do the night before).
I liked The Table Café – it is a friendly, relaxed place with hearty, simple Italian food. I need to visit a few of the other Italians mentioned to compare, but as lots of the South Bank is full of rather more boring chain restaurants, this is an affordable place to have up your sleeve if in the area.