Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Fat Tony's at Bar Termini Centrale, Bond St

Since the arrival of Padella, the bijou and blindingly popular pasta bar in Borough Market, the race has been on amongst the London restaurant community to emulate its success - or hell, even some of its success - elsewhere in the capital. Results so far, it has to be said, have been mixed. Stevie Parle's Pastaio looked like it might be onto something but could only manage a very weak facsimile of the rightly famous Padella cacio e pepe, and the shared tables are a trial. More recently I bounded enthusiastically into the gleaming new Lina Stores pasta bar on Greek Street, only to be served completely unseasoned tortellini with horrid hard edges.

So why haven't proto-Padellas spread out across London, when clearly the demand is there? Well, I'm guessing because making great pasta - and running a great pasta restaurant - isn't anywhere near as easy as Padella makes it look. It's a difficult, laborious job rolling out fresh pasta every morning before service, and all sorts of factors - not least the space to operate in - need to be just right. And any Italian will tell you there's far, far more skill, time and effort goes into the construction of a truly excellent tomato sauce than your average punter would appreciate. Padella is no accident, it's the result of years of experience (the team behind Trullo in Islington, also excellent) and bloody hard work.

Given, then, that we're probably not going to be exactly spoiled for choice for great pasta any time soon, all the more reason to shout from the rooftops about anywhere offering a genuinely world-class product. So with that in mind, please let me introduce you to Fat Tony's at Bar Termini Centrale, and the best pasta I've ever eaten in London.

It sounds a bit unfair to the scale of what the Bar Termini team have achieved with Fat Tony's to say that quite how brilliant it is came out of the blue. Food this good is always, to some degree, unexpected, no matter how much previous experience is being brought along. If I had been told half the staff of the River Café were working downstairs at this rather functional spot on Duke Street that Tuesday evening I still would have been flabbergasted by the quality of the dishes they were turning out, but from chef James French, someone whose name was completely new to me before the press release landed in my inbox, the shock is all the greater.

I hardly need to say, given Bar Termini's pedigree, that the drink offering is amongst the very finest in the capital. Intelligently conceived and immaculately assembled, the Marsala Martini is a thing of stark, clean beauty, balanced and fresh to taste. And the Bellini, similarly stripped-back to its essentials and bathed in a gentle peach glow, is - I believe - spiked with essence of fresh fruit (one of Tony Conigliaro's signature techniques) for extra zing.

But OK, OK, the food. Burrata arrived first. A giant, beautiful thing draped in olive oil and speckled with black pepper, it cut open under gentle pressure to reveal a filling of soft seasoned cream, being in every way about as good as a burrata you could hope to encounter in this city or any other.

Another starter was wonderful in all kinds of different ways, pieces of expertly-prepared octopus complimented by potato, fresh herbs and a kick of nduja. There are a lot of great octopus dishes in London at the moment - the Holborn Dining Room version is particularly noteworthy, and this stood up to the very best of them.

Fat Tony's pici cacio e pepe is about the only version of this dish that has been anywhere near up to the standard of Padella's, and in fact - whisper it - may even be slightly better. The sauce is that same worryingly addictive emulsion of cheese and butter spiked with black pepper, salty and dense with flavour, and speaks of a kitchen that really knows what its doing. But the pici itself was so bouncy and vibrant it was practically alive, jumping around on the end of the fork like a Star Trek special effect. Sorry if that simile doesn't make them sound particularly appetising, but there it is.

Pappardelle with beef shin ragu is another classic dish where extreme attention to detail is the difference between a soggy plate of nonsense and a journey to pasta heaven. With soft yet firm folds of pasta bound with an unbelievably rich and beefy sauce, this was very much in the latter camp, again - at the risk of repeating myself - right up with the very best versions of this dish I've sampled anywhere, and probably a little better still. It's also worth pointing out that the generous chunks of beef that appeared in the bowl were tender, flavoursome little things that almost deserve a blog post all of their own.

Bucatini is (I discovered) similar to pici but with a hole running through the middle. What this means is that as well as being coated on the outside with the most incredible tomato and guanciale sauce, it bursts in the mouth into even more flavour when you bite into them, which if you've not experienced it before let me tell you is A Very Good Thing.

You'll have got the idea by now. Everything Fat Tony's do is (apart weirdly from the house bread, which was a tad stale, but we could have just been unlucky) worth shouting about; yes the pasta is worth crossing continents for but, as I said before, this is no kind of accident. Everything this team has been involved with, even since way back in the days of 69 Colebrook Row, has been touched with a kind of obsessive perfectionism and now they've turned their attention to pasta it makes sense that they've ended up making the best pasta in London, too. Some people are just that annoyingly good at what they do.

Anyway, for now I'll let you go and discover it for yourself. With its obsessively-perfect rendition of classical Italian cuisine, Fat Tony's is a singular achievement for its owners and a new jewel in the crown of London dining. If you sit down for a meal here and manage to come away even in the least bit disappointed, then I'll shut down the blog, sell my house and go and live on an island somewhere. In fact, they've turned me into such an evangelical that despite this meal beginning with a PR invite, I decided to pay my bill in full so that my message wouldn't be diluted. And the message, in short, is this - go and eat at Fat Tony's. It'll change everything.



Gastro1 said...

cacio e pepe has 2 ingredients along with the pasta and its cooking water if butter was an ingredient it would be cacio , pepe e burro a sort of cacio e pepe Alfredo mash up. Guess that's one of the reasons I'm not a fan of @Padella_Pasta version does @fattonypasta use butter ? Also a dish that hails from central Italy - in and around Rome and Tuscany - Pecorino is the cheese of choice

Scouse Will said...

I think I shall head here next week. Absolute class act, paying the bill when you had been invited by PR. Even when you do occasionally get a freebie, I think it is very obvious that you always give a very balanced view, and that's why this is the best food blog in London by a country mile. It put's others to shame and I always look forward to your views and use them as a benchmark as to where to eat. I think the only place I have differed on is Fera. But one or two out of about 500 isn't bad :-)

Chz said...

While I'm excited by the prospect of a few Bar Termini cocktails with something other than beef carpaccio for a change, it's quite tempered by my disappointment at your brief comment on Lina Stores' new venture. Just early days issues, I hope!

Gastro1 said...

Sadly like Padella there is butter in the Cacio e Pepe here . The clue in the number of ingredients is in the name of the dish - Pasta + Cacio ( Pecorino Romano) +Pepe ( starchy cooking water from the pasta is essential to emulsify) Nothing wrong with numerous pasta dishes that include butter - Alfredo for example. Anyway this like Padella is not a good version of Pici Cacio e Pepe.