Monday, 24 October 2016

Padella - Salt on Wound

Since opening six months ago, Padella had attracted a permanent queue. I never made it to Trullo so was very keen to get a taste of their renowned pasta in this chic pasta bar.

The queue wasn’t impossible when I arrived 6:40pm on Friday, perhaps 15 tables ahead of me. About an hour later, we were led to their downstairs dining room, which looked much more comfortable than the cramped counter seats on ground floor. Surprisingly there were always a couple of tables left empty throughout our meal.

Padella sourdough bread & Puglian olive oil
I’m quite sure everyone orders bread; after waiting in line for over an hour, such orders are driven by basic needs. I thought the bread was a bit stale and the crust was border-lining aged leather, but I suppose the general London crowd has accepted any sourdough is better-than-average bread.

Burrata with Puglian olive oil
He isn’t a huge fan of burrata; I love it. The globule of creamy cheese was delicious… While I’m dubious as to whether the kitchen could take credit for the gorgeous cheese, I’m certain they almost ruined it with the pool of oil, Puglian or not. I'd like to quote Gordon Ramsay: ‘You used so much oil the U.S. is trying to invade the plate…

Tagliatelle with nduja, mascarpone and parsley
It looked so appealing and photogenic - glowing pasta laced with vibrant colours of spicy salume paste topped with generous parmesan shavings, dancing on the radiant dish. It was just so… deceiving. Disappointingly so.

It was almost like the overwhelming saltiness had planted a landmine of unpleasantness on my tongue, and before I had a chance to figure out what was wrong, the piquant nduja came along to trigger spicy explosions – it was an alternating barrage of throat-clenching saltiness and mind-numbing heat. What mascarpone?

Problem with 100g pasta dishes is that by the time both of us had had a taste – we didn’t feel like it was appropriate to send back half a plate of eaten food.

Pappadelle with 8-hour beef shin ragu
Our server told us this was their most popular dish, seeing it was brought over from Trullo, I could understand the confidence.

Sadly we couldn’t decide if this was worse than the nduja tagliatelle above, not that we thought it was possible. This was just pure one-dimensional plain salty. Either the chef was trying to preserve the dead cow in the ragu, or wanted to punish us from eating the tired and flat meat, but there was definitely more salt in this beef mixture than beef.

When our server came to clear up, we pointed out that both pasta dishes were very salty. He raised his eyebrows, muttered some acknowledgement with a shrug and a faint smile. I’m not sure how to interpret it.

Pici Cacio e Pepe
Determined to make every effort to like Padella, we decided to give it a final push and ordered what every online review raved about.

Our server explained to us that pici is a type of pasta made without egg, just with water and flour so it resembles thick noodles. They looked awfully similar to long white worms on the plate when they arrived. But presentation turned out to be the least of its issues. It’s the crazy over-seasoning again, so much so that my stomach lurched when the troop of Saline Forces attacked my taste buds.

We had to send it back; we were both tired of washing down sodium-laden pasta with sub-quality wine and the best part of the meal – free water. The manager explained that perhaps the coarse grains of sea salt was unevenly spread as the chefs only sprinkled it with their fingers, and the aged parmesan shavings may have tipped it over the edge. Apparently chef agreed that it was a bit salty. I reject such explanation – especially when the problem was consistent for all 3 dishes – either the chefs had poor technique or there is no quality check. But instead of pushing my point, I let it go with a smile. Afterall they have a full house of diners, a never-ending queue and a world-wide web of supporters – what would I be trying to prove? So I just thanked him for not charging us for the plate of pasta we sent back.

I think we had tried enough. Despite desperately trying to be impressed by Padella, nothing worked this evening. I have no doubt the kitchen is great at making fresh pasta - after we scraped off the offensive ragu from the pappadelle and pushed away the salty slime from the pici, the pasta itself was delightfully fresh and springy in texture. It’s the cooking part they failed.

As we glided our way out, I couldn’t help by wonder why I didn’t fall in love with this sexy and slick pasta joint like everyone else did. Am I being an over-critical catty bitch with hyper-responsive salt sensors? Possibly. Are people too forgiving towards this talk-of-the-town spot in London Bridge that is *only* charging £6-10 for a pasta main? Also a possibility.

6 Southwark Street

No Reservations

Padella Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Barbary - Baby Palomar

On a Wednesday evening, I was tasked with choosing a dinner spot for 3 people on that Friday, somewhere good and reliable, preferably a talk-of-town. Ha. Yea. Because all the good trendy places have empty tables waiting for us to waltz in on Friday nights. Queen Mother likes to try new things but not a fan of steak, and the man doesn’t leave the office till 6pm – looks like I’ll just have to queue early for one of the ‘no reservation’ hotspots. I went for The Barbary over Hoppers – it’s newer.

I arrived at 5:50pm to join the queue and was seated around 6:30pm. We were lucky to be seated on the side that faces into the kitchen, so we could watch the grill in action and chat with Chef. Chef explained various items on the menu and said they only have one last portion of goat stew left – yes please! The dishes are designed for sharing, so we picked a couple of dishes from each section of the menu as well as from the specials.

Naan e Bababri & Baba Ghanoush
The roasted aubergine and tahini puree can’t go wrong, earthy and nutty flavours in a velvet-smooth paste, smeared on crispy, garlicky, chargrilled naan bread. The seasoning could have been better distributed, which is probably why the Queen Mother found it a tad salty; perhaps chef was a bit heavy-handed. Still delicious.

Jerusalem Bagel
The sesame flecked bagel was pillow-soft and fluffy, served with a small packet of Za’tar. I just used the bread to mop up all the sauce from each plate.

Cauliflower Jaffa Style
Next round came the deep-fried cauliflower florets, dusted with powerful herbs and spices, paired with zesty tomato pulp on a bed of creamy tahini. It was waves after waves of vibrant flavours.

Roasted Aubergine ‘Sharabik’
The aubergine was roasted to utter tenderness, reducing the succulent veg to mushy and smoky goodness, then dipped in a honey and date sauce. It was paired with tart raspberries and plenty of toasted almonds to lift the bitter tones, served with lush silky labneh (strained Greek yoghurt) that brought all the strong flavours together.

Octopus Mashawsha
The chunky octopus tentacle was flash-grilled for a slightly charred exterior, still soft but bouncy on the inside. The chickpeas were stewed with a concoction of rich spices, served on a bed of yoghurt-based sauce infused with a tangy mango pickle conserve, topped with mint leaves to bring out the Mediterranean flair and vivacity.

Swordfish Kusbara
We were tossing up between this or the hake chraimeh (spicy tomato sauce), and decided the latter has a high risk of resembling tinned fish. Swordfish is quite a ‘meaty’ fish, in the sense that its texture is quite dense, making it sinewy and rubbery even if it’s just marginally overcooked. The kitchen has done well to retain the succulence of the filet, though I still prefer my fish slightly uncooked. This was somewhat like a palate-cleanser; fish was simply seasoned with salt, matched with sauce vierge and yoghurt – clean and simple. The Queen Mother thought it was again slightly overseasoned, and only had a tiny portion.

Marrakech Goat Stew
I was slightly disappointed with this. If I’m brutally honest, it was like any other stew with small bits of braising meat and carrot in a regular stock gravy. It was missing the North African touches like paprika and piquant tomato in tangines, the distinctive flavours from slow-cooking goat meat was lost in the onion gravy, and it was overall quite a flat dish despite the dollop of pepper hummus-lookalike; the culprit was possibly the stew stock that drowned out the herbs and more delicate aromas. The small discs of puff pastries were great though, making this more like a deconstructed steak & ale pie.

Pata Negra Neck

Chef saved the best for the last - This simple dish of grilled pork neck was phenomenal. Pork neck muscles are tender but springy, slow cooking dissolves the fat interlaced between the muscle fibre, making the cut extra juicy. Chef kept it brilliantly simple by throwing it on the grill to give it a charred finish with a touch of Ras el hanout, and the meat just melted away in our mouths to release its savoury essence. It was my favourite of the evening.

A layer of pistachio and date filling sandwiched in a brown sugar cake - buttery and crumbly, and not overly sweet. Delicious.

I was quite excited to see this on the menu, knowing he really liked the knafeh in Jordan. The honey-soaked pastry cake had a stretchy cheesy layer topped with crispy baked noodles, crushed pistachio nuts and raspberries. We loved it, though the cheese wasn’t as creamy and stretchy as the ones we had in Jordan, and the noodle layer was a bit thicker. Chef said he used mozzarella and goat’s cheese as a replacement for the cheese that they’d use in traditional recipes, then mix with a lot of butter and sugar.

I wasn’t ecstatic about Palomar, probably because I missed the fun at the bar - Good thing they have extended the vibe at the Barbary. 

The Barbary is like Palomar but in Barrafina style. The business model is ingenious; they waiting crowd is committed and locked in as they sip on drinks around the dining room and sniff waffs of delicious food. The menu is succinct and most people would have decided on what to order while waiting. The kitchen churn out the small plates, deliver them to the hungry diners around the counter direct.  While there is no pressure from staff to hurry diners along, the ever-growing queue pressed against your back is a polite enough reminder to not sit around. It wouldn’t surprise me if each seat get turned around 5 times in one evening.

Anyway, I digressed. We enjoyed The Barbary, not only was the food enjoyable, the energetic buzz and fun ambience contributed to the positive experience. Most of the dishes we tried were delicious, bursting with powerful flavours with North African herbs and spices; perhaps a tad too nonchalant with the freehand seasoning, but overall I think the recipes worked.

Another great addition to Neal’s Yard!

6 Neal's Yard 

No Reservations

The Barbary Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato