Fadiga, 71 Berwick Street, London W1F 8TB (020 3609 5536). Starters £ 8-£ 12, main courses £ 9-£ 18, desserts £ 8-£ 9, wines from £ 25
I knew my ridiculous hair made sense. This is this review. Because without my midlife crisis expressed through shiny braids, I wouldn’t have been introduced to Fadiga. It describes itself as a ‘Ristorante Bolognese’ and occupies a small location on Berwick Street in London’s Soho. It is located right next to where I am going to be treated by the brilliant Filipe, a man who exudes quiet confidence in the face of great challenges. With immense patience, he unearths something significant from the chaos of my infinitely explosive bouffant.
While he does, we chat: the usual stuff, that is, the dizzying topics of intimacy and depth that any sane person questions with their hairstylist. Periodically, he sympathizes with me about brutally false allegations on social media that I have dyed my hair. For god’s sake, look at my beard. Surely, I would have dyed that too, if I had tried to cheat. Once, with complete false solemnity, Filipe offered to issue an official statement confirming that this was the whole model. I still have him waiting for that.
We’re also talking about restaurants, which is why he mentioned the new room downstairs. It was strange. New restaurants need to get started quickly to start getting a return on their investment, so breathtaking news always pops up online. But from Fadiga, I hadn’t heard anything. After he was done with me and lifted off the ground enough to hurt a freshly shorn sheep with envy, we took to the street. We stood outside the cramped restaurant, side by side, and gazed out the large window at the fresh, clean lines of the 10-seat wood-floored dining room, with its glass display case of freshly made pasta.
Apparently, Filipe said, the chef was a bit ‘out there’. I found my way to the restaurant’s new Instagram account, which suggested it just might be: Here are images of candy striped tortellini resembling humbugs and rhubarb and custard candy. Here were rainbow-colored ravioli, or stuffed with blueberries or pears and goat cheese. It was both entertaining and a little disturbing.
Based on a delicious dinner there, I can tell you that it was all just a facade, only electronic type. The real window decoration is courtesy of the ribbons of egg yolk tagliatelle that they roll and sometimes cut on the wide marble ledge against the real window. When we arrive for dinner, this marble slab is studded with the promise of black squid ink tortellini. They are made, like all the pasta here, by Michela Pappi. The dishes are then cooked by her husband Enrico Fogli and served by their daughter Carlotta. In Bologna, the family ran hotels, before coming to the UK four years ago to run a catering business. Now they have this restaurant, which is named after Enrico’s late mother’s maiden name.
Here’s what you need to know: This pasta, made daily, is truly delicious, full of the necessary glide, bite and tension. There are nine main courses, all priced for the mid-teens, complemented by a trio of specialties. Despite the exuberance posted on Instagram (a lockdown project, Carlotta would later tell me; her mother just got bored), everything is heartwarming. There are the pappardelles with a wild mushroom sauce, or the tagliolini with summer truffles. There are ricotta tortelli with tomato and basil, squid ink bucatini with seafood and gnocchi in a butter and sage sauce. The portions are for those with ambitious appetites; if you ask, they will happily split a dish between two so you can try more.
We have tagliatelle with their 12 hour stew. That’s all the dish should be. The beef and pork in this meaty sauce have collapsed after all this languid time in each other’s company to become the richest and brightest of stews, which clings to every ribbon of pasta. From the list of specialties, there are these squid ink tortellini from the window, as black as an unlit night, as soft and silky as a duck down pillow, and filled with the crisp white of a fillet of sea bass. They come in a hard-hitting mess of squid and mussel and the sweetest of cherry tomatoes just begging to pop against the roof of your mouth.
And then there’s this classic: tortellini in brodo di cappone, the soothing place where Italian moms and Jewish mothers meet to fulfill their destiny as nannies. The clearest and most intense of chicken broths with a generous helping of tiny curls of pasta stuffed with ground pork and Parmesan cheese. It’s a steaming bowl that you want to lean over and watch; it is food as a place of safety.
I would fail in my role as a journalist if I left it there. Fadiga is really all about fabulous pasta. There is a very short list of starters and they are tough, tough businesses. Accompanied by a plate of salami and ham, there is an intensely North Italian dish of crispy beef meatballs under a bed of ham and cheese; there are scallops, grilled under thick heaps of golden buttered breadcrumbs. Both come with those cubed roasted potatoes that Italians get attached to, a bit oddly. Tonight there are only three desserts and one of them, a strawberry tiramisu, is sold out. A new batch has just been made, we are told, but the cream has not yet set. Instead, we’ve got a slightly stiff coffee panna cotta and zuppa inglese, that comical take on trifle, with layers of sponge cake and cream soaked in pink syrup and fruit. It is certainly pretty.
At some point after the entrees we get an apology for the long wait and the offer of a drink on the house. I am baffled by the delay, considering that there are only four of us dining here in this small dining room. It turns out that downstairs there is a large table of diners preparing for a pasta tasting menu. Oh, and the sous chef is gone. It all sounds a little nervous about a new company finding its feet, but in the sweetest and most seductive way. Fadiga deserves all the love. Incidentally, it turns out that the shiny showcase isn’t just for the show. You can buy their pasta to take home with you. They cost from £ 1.50 per 100g for single ribbons, to £ 4.50 for the most luxuriously filled shapes. This means that I can now get a masterful haircut and sort dinner at the same time. Results. Thank you Philippe. Thanks Fadiga.
Chef Simon Rogan of Cumbrian restaurant L’Enclume has launched a set of ‘cook at home’ recipe boxes in the north of England supermarket chain, Booths. The boxes, containing ingredients from Booths suppliers, cost £ 20 each, serve two people, and can be ordered through the Booths website for in-store pickup. The first three boxes are Rogan’s salt-baked celeriac, cod loin and roasted cauliflower, and chicken breast with creamed kale. TO stands.co.uk.
The Shelter Box charity published a collaborative novel, Tamesis Street, shining the spotlight on the impact of climate change on global communities through a fictional account of the London flooding in the near future. Writers include Bill Bryson, Joanne Harris, Sarah Waters, Mike Leigh, and, uh, me. It’s mentioned here because my chapter has so much about cookies. To get a free copy, subscribe to Shelter box Reading Club.
Also just released The female chef, with words by Clare Finney and photographs by Liz Seabrook. It features interviews, recipes and footage from some of the biggest women in the UK food scene. These include Nokx Majozi of the Holborn Dining Rooms, vegetarian food writer Anna Jones and Andi Oliver of Wadadli Kitchen and the BBC. Great British menu. Copies can be ordered through the Hoxton Mini Press.