Wednesday, 23 April 2014
It's the cosmopolitan dream, isn't it, to have a reliable, relatively inexpensive restaurant about 10 minute's walk from the house, where it's neither regularly indimidatingly empty or so full you struggle to find a walk-in table, and where the food is never less than decent. By necessity, the food can't really be much more than decent either, as then you'd be attracting nerdy foodies like me from across the capital, with our cameras and Twitter accounts and before you know it, they're winning Michelin stars, doubling the prices, and managing a 6-month waiting list. I'm looking at you, Harwood Arms.
So the trick of a good neighbourhood restaurant is to stay slightly under the radar, do what you do well but without too much of a fanfare, and make a healthy living turning happy locals into regulars. It's every restaurateur's dream as well, I imagine, to run such a place - to host a buzzy room of contented diners, attended to by a small team of enthusiastic staff doing the job they love, and supported by a kitchen turning out the kind of dishes they'd want to eat themselves.
It is for all these reasons that I really shouldn't be telling you about Bibo. True, being a brand new restaurant in wilds of Putney it would probably appreciate a step up the publicity ladder, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before it's got a steady stream of local bookings and a healthy balance sheet. If Bibo became a "destination" restaurant, you wouldn't be able just pop in on a Wednesday evening for a plate of pasta and a tiramisu, you'd have to book months in advance and give your credit card details, copy of your birth certificate and agree to take the 5pm-7pm slot at the table next to the toilets with the wonky leg. Not that Bibo would do anything like have a table next to the toilets with a wonky leg, but you know.
Anyway here goes. N'duja crocchette had a good amount of spice, and a pleasant crust/filling ratio. Only £3.50 for five sizeable pieces too, which was generous.
Chicken liver crostini had a fantastic earthy flavour; it's not difficult to enjoy even quite mediocre chicken liver pate (I don't think), but when it's done well it's one of my favourite things to order in an Italian restaurant. Texture was provided by delicate salty slivers of grilled pancetta, and chopped capers cut through the fat in the pate mix. Good work.
Next, as is customary in any decent Italian restaurant, we were encouraged to prepare our stomachs for the impending secondi with a vast amount of pasta. Spinach and ricotta ravioli was the best, glistening with oil, dressed with fried sage and containing just enough mixture to give you something to bite into, but then I would say that because ordering it was my idea. Rabbit cappelletti had lovely chunks of pancetta and bright green peas, and octopus tagliarini was good too, all about the meaty chunks of braised octopus and the sea-rich stock they bathed in. If I was to take issue with anything I could say the pasta was a little thicker, firmer, more heavy-handed than it's possible to find, but then perhaps this was entirely deliberate (see first paragraph).
In the end, three pasta courses put paid to any fleeting ideas we might have had about secondi, and though I'm sure the ox cheek and marrow brushetta and the lemon sole with anchovies are lovely (they certainly sound it), we skipped straight to desserts. And boy, am I glad we did, because these bambolini (mini doughnuts) were too good to reluctantly force down on a full stomach. The pastry was impressive enough alone - warm and light and moist inside, fried to order and timed just right - but the amalfi lemon curd they came in was the kind of thing legends are made of. If every new restaurant deserves a signature dish that gets people talking - the Harwood Arms venison scotch egg for example, or the veal chop at Zucca - this lemon curd ensures Bibo's will be the bambolini. Plus, "Bibo's bambolini" has a great ring to it, doesn't it? Sounds like an Italian pop song.
I'm not going to show you my photo of the ice cream as it truly is terrifying, like one of the cuts made to a 15-certificate found-footage horror film, but they were home made and involved the words "salted caramel" and "rhubarb" so I'm sure you can fill in the gaps yourselves.
Now, I'll be the first to admit we could have taken it a bit easier on the booze, and yes, the Fernet was my idea, but most of the other glasses were expertly chosen by blogger and general wine person Zeren Wilson, who is overseeing that kind of thing in the first few weeks while Bibo finds its piedi. I've long since decided the best way of approaching a wine list is to ignore it completely and just let the experts do their job, and the glasses we enjoyed this evening were top notch, particularly a low-alcohol dessert fizz I've completely forgotten the name of. "Low-alcohol dessert fizz" should get you halfway there though.
As I said before, Bibo deserves to do well, and is probably going to do well. It's not too expensive, staff are lovely, the room is - well the room is a bit odd actually, with all the action happening towards the back and a large underused bar at the front making the place look empty from the street when it isn't - but apparently there are plans afoot to redesign this. The point is, it's a nice, normal, friendly local restaurant that should serve the people of Putney very well as long as the rest of London can just please leave them alone to get on with it. So, yes, ignore all of the above. Forget I said anything. As you were.