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