Monday, 19 October 2020

Officina 00, Old Street

I've not been to New York for a few years now, and it's probably not a good idea to go there at all at the moment given that indoor dining is still outlawed, but I seem to remember restaurants there being incredibly dark. More than once I ended up having to illuminate my menu using the torch on my iPhone, and stubbed my toe on someone else's chair feeling out for the route to the bathroom. I appreciate that the clandestine lighting scheme has its fans, and certainly atmosphere is important - more important than I'd care to admit sometimes - but I also reserve the right to fully appreciate what I'm being asked to eat, and not have to stab blindly at a vaguely plate-sized area in front of me in the hope that some of my attempts might return something edible.

It's via the awesome power of Adobe Photoshop, then, that I'm able to show you the rustic visual appeal of the dishes at Officina 00 because once the sun goes down (and the days are only going to get shorter) the candlelit dining room becomes so dim that it's only thanks to one of the Covid safety precautions - online menus on a backlit mobile screen - that I was able to figure out what was on offer at all. The menu in question though, fortunately, is a short and sweet list of tasteful Italian classics in the Padella or Bacone vein. And that I'm risking invoking the name of those two Mediterranean titans shows you that Officina compares pretty well with them indeed.

First though, a white Negroni - that's clear vermouth (Martini bianco) and Italicus liqueur instead of the usual Campari. Were it not for the olive garnish it would look for all the world like a glass of iced water, but it tasted great - if anything, more balanced and less bitter than a "normal" Negroni, and joins the list of great "clear versions of cocktails" alongside Bob Bob Ricard's Clear Bloody Mary and, er, well I'm sure there's another example somewhere.

A single large raviolo, made from good firm (though not overly so) pasta was seasoned with parmesan shavings and broke open delightfully to reveal a soft yolk centre. Sure, in these days of star pasta restaurants and new wave Italian cuisine this could very be the kind of thing you've seen done before, but it's never less than a delight to crack one of these open no matter how many times you have the opportunity to do so.

What's more unusual is seeing home made sausage on an Italian restaurant menu, and these were very fine things, all salty and porky and richly flavoured, arriving with caramelised onions and a white wine and sichuan pepper sauce. It takes a special kind of effort - not to mention skill set - to produce your own sausages, and especially to end up with a product as notable as this. Consider me impressed.

House bread was a nice tacky sourdough with a fantastic dark, brittle crust and came with whipped parmesan butter, which was every bit as enjoyable as you might hope "whipped parmesan butter" might be. And I'm sorry about the photo but it's only now after post-processing I know what they looked like myself.

Not everything was completely perfect. Linguine was underseasoned and quite claggy and dense, and though the clams were nice there weren't quite enough of them. Also, I wonder at the logic of dressing the dish with raw, rather bitter oregano leaves, which were rather odd and distracting. Either fry them in butter first, or just incorporate them into the sauce - either would have been an improvement I think. Still, all said and done this was a portion of fresh pasta and fresh clams, and still got eaten.

More successful was papardelle with porky meatballs, boasting yet more lovely lively pasta and a big dollop of cooling burrata on top. I mean, if you're the kind of person that can't enjoy papardelle in tomato sauce with meatballs, then there's probably no hope for you. I am not, thankfully, one of those people.

Good pasta restaurants, like Padella and Bancone and yes, Officina 00, make it all look so easy. It's "just" pasta, isn't it? Surely nowhere with a license to serve food and a predeliction for Italian classics should be stumped by the requirements of handmade tagliatelle, or the constituent parts of a decent passata. Even if you aren't going to stretch to making your own pork sausage or can't work out how to keep the yolk runny in an egg raviolo, surely the basics are exactly that - basic?

Except, experience suggests, they're anything but. Good pasta bars are still a rarity in London because this stuff is not easy - you have to know exactly what you're doing at every step of the process, and even the most experienced (and certainly the most expensive) places can slip up. Officina 00 is not the perfect pasta restaurant - if such a thing even exists - but by virtue of enthusiasm and effort and a genuinely deep understanding of the food they're serving, is absolutely worth the money they're asking for it and then some. I enjoyed it very much on the night, and now looking back at the lightened photos I'm even more convinced. Go to Officina, and you'll see for yourself. Just bring a torch.


I was invited to Officina 00 and didn't see a bill. Menu is here though, and changes daily.

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