Monday 20 March 2023

Papi, London Fields

"We'll need your table back in an hour and a half, is that OK?"

Well, I suppose it'll have to be, but it would have been nice to have been told this while booking, or even to mention it on the website, so we could have prepared ourselves a bit better. I always book tables in "normal" (ie not tasting menu) restaurants on the tacit understanding that 2 hours is about right to get most of what you need done without being made to feel you've either overstayed your welcome or been rushed. One and a half hours is, as we descovered at Papi, not enough time, and to have the next party of four stand by the front door and watch silently as you finish your dessert is extremely uncomfortable indeed.

Still, there's a lot to like about Papi. It's one of those places where you want to order everything on the menu, and as the menu isn't that huge, if you take a couple of friends along you probably can. We started with Cantabrian anchovies which were very nice and meaty and salty, next to a few colourful strips of sweet Corno peppers, all drenched in decent olive oil.

Next a pretty little row of sliced raw bream, where I didn't detect any of the advertised wasabi but did enjoy a nicely sharp tosazu (dashi vinegar) dressing, topped with cod's roe. A rather bijou portion for £13 perhaps but I'm on a hiding to nothing bringing up portion sizes and prices these days - yes, everything's getting more expensive and nobody (apart from Salt Bae and that kebab place in Croydon) is making money out of restaurants so we may as well just get used to it.

Oysters came incased in some kind of deep-fried veg parcel, and topped with buckthorn chutney and lardo. The textures were the best thing about this, the crunch of the veg next to the silky lardo and smooth buckthorn, with the oysters only very-so-slightly overwhelmed by everything else going on. Still, very enjoyable.

In the next dish, the main ingredient - a kind of Thai-style smoked rabbit sausage - was absolutely superb, definitely worth the money they're asking for it and clearly made with a lot of care and skill. Unfortunately the bitter leaves it came with were a little bit floppy and sad, and it desperately needed some kind of dipping sauce to accompany it, although a squeeze of lemon helped. I have spotted on Instagram that since our visit they have started serving the sausage with a sauce, so either they've taken feedback on this or just forgot to add it on our visit.

Prawn 'farcelette' had a fantastic clear dulce (seaweed) broth and a good bouncy texture inside, although in the end the flavour of the seafood was a little subdued.

Steamed pollock was much more interesting - a bright, chunky bit of fish draped in salty sea vegetables and dressed in another fantastically enjoyable sharp/sweet sauce. I just wish there was a bit more than a mouthful of it for £18, but I said I wouldn't complain about prices or portion sizes so I won't.

In a mainly modern British menu with Asian influences the 'cheeseburger tartare' was a bit of an outlier. But their place, their rules, and it was still definitely worth the order. The tartare was nicely seasoned and of a good chunky texture, topped with a dark orange egg yolk, and greaseless, crucnhy chips were a pleasant bonus. I think the "cheese" element came from the mayonnaise on top somehow, although it didn't register much with me. Still enjoyed it though.

Desserts were, as I mentioned, eaten in the final few seconds we had on the table before being turfed out, so that they managed to impress so completely is probably testament to their quality. Burnt Honey custard with ginger and rhubarb is a tried and tested combo, and didn't disappoint here, the (presumably forced) rhubarb being a particular highlight. But even better was something called "fairy breads" (appearing mysteriously as "fire and waffles" on the bill, a soft spongecake with an addictive crust) and Vacherin ice cream, nowhere near as it sounds with the stinky cheese just providing an extra creamy, farmy note. Very impressive stuff.

So yes, we'd have liked a little more of the food for the money, and we'd have liked more time to enjoy it in, but overall for £66 a head with a bottle and a half of wine this is actually still something approaching value. With a couple of bits and pieces refined and practiced (it's still early days over in Papiland) this could easily, by the time you visit, be one of the very best places in East London to eat. And East London, as this Battersea resident must report through grilled teeth, is not short of great places to eat. Already it's serving very interesting, thoughful food (efficiently and with a smile, despite the time constraints) and is worth a visit. And I can only see it getting better.


Papi's lovely PR people have got in touch to say there was a messup with the bookings system the week I visited, which has now been fixed, and all bookings are now 2 hours long. So that's a good reason to revisit.

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