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Tuesday, 28 January 2014
Words & Photography by Simeen Kadi and Luiz Hara
Where: 2 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4PX, http://paesanlondon.com/
Cost: Antipasti from £4, small plates are around £6 and mains from £8 to £13
About: Paesan aims to extol the virtues of ‘Cucina Povera’; a cuisine styled from the humble meals of Italian peasants. Taking over from the corner site previously housing Dollar Grills and Martinis on Exmouth Market, this is a fairly large, unadorned space which caters to the drinking and dining crowds that line the pavements of this party street.
What we ate: Paesan is one of a few London restaurants that have been spawned from the Polpo template. While I don’t think they actually share any DNA, they have a similar aesthetic and menu – although I would add that Polpo would win any bout of sibling rivalry.
The menu is broken up into manageable chunks with Antipasti, Piccolo (ie small plates) Pasta, Fish and Meat. We started with a plate of charcuterie including Coppa di Testa, Wild Boar Mortadella and Lardo. The Lardo was sweet and deeply flavoured, the coppa was also very good, especially when wrapped around spicy Puglian bread rings. The mortadella, although tasty, did not have a discernable flavour of gamey wild boar. The Caponata was rich and velvety – a great example of inexpensive ingredients given some va va boom.
The Focaccia we ordered to accompany the meats was topped with delicious caramelised onion but was woefully undercooked and doughy.
From the Piccolo section of the menu we ordered the Burrata which came with more of the delicious caponata – the burrata was fresh and bright but could have been creamier.
Calabrian Trippa & Steak Ragu with Chilli and Pecorino tried to appeal to squeamish British diners with a thinly veiled use of the Italian for tripe. The dish was peppery and both the tripe and the steak were tender.
The Crochette Schiacciatina (try saying that after a couple of Negronis) were two crispy patties with a filling flavoured with anchovy and parmesan – dense and well seasoned. It came with a tomato salsa that was one dimensional and tasted vaguely of preservatives.
The pasta dish that I had been waiting to try was Hand Cut Pappardelle with Slow Roasted Suckling Pig Ragu. Sadly it was sold out, so we opted for the Orecchiette with Nduja, Pancetta and Cavolo Nero. Nduja, the fiery hot spreadable sausage made from pork and lots of chilli, was a key ingredient for 2013, featuring in neo-Italian bacare as well as in menu-bending fusion street food stands across the capital. Here, it was tempered by the cabbage and coated the pasta ears to give a rich, pleasing mouthful.
We also tried the Fritto Misto – always a good barometer for the skill of a kitchen. Here, the batter was light, crisp and well seasoned. The fish was mostly Calamari, which was lightly cooked and tender. There was the odd chunk of Red Mullet which was also well cooked in the batter. The accompanying aioli lacked the zing of a squeeze of lemon.
For dessert, we enjoyed a large serving, best shared, of perfectly good toasted Panettone with Grand Marnier and Vanilla ice cream.
What we drank: The Negroni we ordered while perusing the menu was watery, due to the addition of soda – an absolute sacrilege. To make matters worse, the olive in the drink was raw and hard as a bullet.
With our meal we drank a 2012 Montelpuciano d'Abruzzo by Farina which lacked depth or balance, but had plenty of fruit as such a young wine would. A completely forgettable bottle.
Verdict: Paesan has a great location on a vibrant street teeming with great food. A greater focus on using quality ingredients, however humble, and more care in the kitchen and the bar should elevate this restaurant to a neighbourhood favourite.