In the spring of 2016, the team behind Trullo in Islington opened small Italian restaurant opened on the fringe of Borough Market. Reservations weren’t accepted; service was quick, making it possible to devour three courses within the hour, and the accessibly priced menu had a prominent focus on ascetic pasta dishes. An instant hit, Padella would set the blueprint for a new casual pasta restaurant.
In a similar vein, restaurants such as Pastaio, Lina Stores and Bancone have since opened, offering similarly desirable menus festooned with fresh pasta dishes, none of which are particularly expensive. Reservations are not taken at Pastaio, while early (5:30) or late (9:30) dinner bookings are accepted at Lina Stores – the new restaurant from the veteran Italian grocery store, founded in 1944. But if, like me, you prefer to eat out with the guarantee of eventually being fed, look to Bancone.
Meaning ‘counter’ in Italian, Bancone occupies a site near Trafalgar Square, with ex Pied à Terre and Locanda Locatelli chef Louis Korovilas at the helm. The restaurant’s main dining space utilises a long room that’s bright and modern with a marble-topped counter running along one side, where guests can watch the brigade of chefs prepare a melange of dishes. Additional booths are also on hand, set aside living walls and glass cabinets showcasing dried pasta. While the booths are cosy, dinner at Bancone is (naturally) best enjoyed at the counter: equally suitable for casual date nights and solo feasts. Service is brisk, yet warm and measured.
In addition to a concise, accessible wine list – much of which is available by the carafe – Bancone’s food menu features various antipasti treats, but is deeply rooted in fresh pasta made and rolled upstairs. Dinner began with a slab of ambrosial focaccia, slathered with honey and studded with entire cloves of confit garlic: adopting sponge cake texture, rife with harmonious flavours. Three arancini spheres harboured different fillings, each of which were fine. The greasy saffron and ‘nduja didn’t quite live up to the wild mushrooms with their robust earthiness paired with al dente rice; nor did the dolcelatte filling. Although less creamy than desirable, a globe of unremarkable buratta was well matched with contrasting flavours of undisturbed speck and black fig.
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On to the pasta, the main draw at Bancone. Torn between the two, we were coaxed into ordering the pappardelle with rabbit over the perfunctory oxtail ragù, having been braised for ten hours. Ribbons of pappardelle were thin and cooked slightly al dente – as is proper – with each strand clinging onto the rich sauce of rabbit, long-braised in juniper and bay, majestically bolstered by the addition of Primitivo from Southern Italy. Better still were the envelopes of ravioli generously stuffed with Gressingham duck. Although slightly lacking in sauce, the ravioli’s accompaniment of Barolo-braised onions was rich, warming and quietly spiced: deeply evocative of Christmas. On the side, humble Hispi cabbage was uncommonly enticing, heavily charred to conjure a deep, nutty flavour, simply embellished with red chilli and garlic; lashed with 2017 Planeta olive oil.
Post pasta, puddings seemed spontaneous. A slapdash afterthought. Hunks of under-ripe plum were blowtorched and served beneath a cloud of aerated yoghurt, joined by white chocolate gravel and nuggets of natural honeycomb – the dish’s only real luminary. Dessert aside – in a climate of constant closures, with so many pop-ups becoming permanent before inevitably popping-down before you can say “farcical food fad” – Bancone has serious hit potential.
Bancone can be found at 39 William IV Street, London, WC2N 4DD.
Header photograph: Jade Nina Sarkhel