The dining room interior at Flour & Grape is very Zone 6. It might even be satellite town suburban. There’s lots of uncool brickwork and cagey metal, low-hanging orangey glow lights and amongst it all are locals. Some of them may be a little more well-heeled than those you find in, say, Woking, but they’re locals nonetheless. All this pleases me greatly. I am very Zone 6 on account of having been born in it, and very suburban satellite town having spent a proportion of my life growing up in one.
In reality, Flour & Grape isn’t on the periphery. It’s round the corner from London Bridge, and it’s joining in. London’s having a pasta party, so it makes sense. As obvious a comparison as it is, to avoid a Padella conflation would be futile. Flour & Grape also features a chic glass front so as to expose the mechanical workings of homemade pasta tickling. It’s hard to ignore mentioning Pastaio here too of course, with its honeyed succulence and fabulous malloredus.
Here also lies an opportunity to note the overarching shift to post-Italian. Post-Italian isn’t bellissimo, kiss my fingers, jolly white apron service, heady Chianti and mama’s tiramisu Italian Italian. It’s beyond that. It’s a time where the time-honoured old guard continue pleasing parents, while we – the bastions of progress – dine out on the most sumptuous and affordable of ragùs.
Where all this leaves middle of the road Italians – neither here nor there, sometimes pretty good but generally average – is unknown. Antico, which Flour & Grape has buoyantly replaced, was arguably one of those. The question is, does Flour & Grape put itself up there with Sorella and co.? Not really. It feels all Zone 6, remember? Local and middle-aged. You can bloody book, for God’s sake.
As you can book, you may as well go and try the very good bread. A bouncy piece of ciabatta, soft and fragrant, is a triumph. It even comes with a retro pot of extra virgin oil (not refilled, it’s extra verge, honest). Next, pork tenderloin tonnato, punchy and acidic and completely doing away with the idea of a second Negroni. It is perhaps the standout dish: rich, creamy, the pork perfectly tender and the remaining sauce, studded with juicy capers, proves a lovely bath for any leftover bread (order more), and a great host for Roero Arneis (the menu offers wine pairings, categorised by region).
Suggesting the tonnato is the prized plate should not detract from the careful simplicity of the pasta dishes, upon which Flour & Grape models – half of – itself. As painfully alluded to before, it’s hard not to think of famed cacio e pepe, or potato ravioli smothered in gravy. But then those are sublime pieces of work apparently unsurpassable in design. More importantly, they’re as hyped as a Quincy Jones interview and we must put things in perspective.
The beef pappardelle, cooked with unctuous short-rib, could use a measure more of booze (do say, “and one for the chef”) but is otherwise delicious. The meat has been rendered well and pre-applied Parmesan provides salt where a little more may well have been desired. The duck rigatoni needs nothing more whatsoever, the ragù rich with prunes and juniper. And it’s a pleasure finding meat you’d thought all finished, flapping around inside pasta tubes on the cusp of al dente. Sort of British al dente, you know?
Flour & Grape helpfully advises wine pairings. We only once go off grid – at the end, when Barolo calls us to mass. Things are warm and marvellous and we eat gorgonzola dolce off teaspoons. (There’s also creamy Venetian condio, and rosso di langa, a grassy cow’s milk cheese from Piedmont).
If Flour & Grape is scooping up the last of the sloppy cheese from a teaspoon, then it’s worth its metal; welcome in being understated and unassuming, and popping up and getting stuck in. The restaurant is a local Italian – one that isn’t the super cool or fanciful in its precision, but a modern version of what came before it. No reinvention. Instead – almost impossibly – a reimagining of the suburban joints of childhood.
Flour & Grape can be found at 214 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3TQ.