Back when summer was still ablaze in the south London sky, when the world was still full of hope and sunburnt Brits and lunch-breaks in the park, Chopper and I found ourselves in a distinctly Italian mood.
Maybe it was the opportunity the climate climax afforded me to whack on my new sunnies – so much more Sophia Loren than Sophie Hobson (thank you, ASOS). Maybe it was the romantic vision of tanned angry drivers stuck in sweaty traffic jams gesturing profanely at each other – so very Rome! La vita bella!
But Italian it was – and where better to peck at Pecorino, to grab a grappa, to tongue-tackle tangled tagliatelle than… Bermondsey Street.
Mi amores, Southwark might not be known for its Italian heritage, but Bermondsey Street now boasts two fine Italian restaurants. The first, Zucco, has been around a couple of years to general bellissimo acclaim, and last year won the Decanter Restaurant of the Year award for its wine list.
But if you fancy something a smidgen less formal and a little more vibrant (we did), then try newcomer Antico, which arrived in April. The team behind this “neighbourhood restaurant” affair are young: 31-year-old owner Nick Crispini has worked under Theo Randall, while head chef Nicholas Schizas is 29 and has experience with Theo Randall and London tapas icon Jose Pizzaro.
I tell you this, well, partly because it’s impressive, but also because I suspect their youthful energy has infused the place with its buzz. The staff genuinely seem to be having a lot of fun, the crowd comes in all shapes and sizes and is generally all a-chatter, and, best of all, the menu is unpretentious yet still exciting. We’re talking a few simple, good-quality ingredients, paired with panache, in that way that Italian cooking makes seem so effortlessly elegant.
I started with Devon crab, tomatoes, shallots, rocket and capers. The earthiness of the crab was sliced through with just the right amount of lemon, with the sweet fuzz of shallot rounding off the cut-through of rocket – the flavours were understated yet came together in a full and multi-layered chorus. It was perfectly summery for the perfect summer evening (even if it was technically spring, you spoilsport).
Chopper had burrata, prosciutto braciotto, rocket & fresh chilli. Translation for burrata: a cheese similar to mozzarella but with a molten centre that oozed out pleasingly like a yolk of savoury cream. The tongue-prickling saltiness of the prosciutto made tender Italian love to the creamy dream of cheese and the rocket and chilli provided well-balanced cut-through of texture and bite. Starters were between £5 and £9, which seemed very reasonable.
For main, I had pan roasted wild black bream, tomatoes, capers, olives and spinach (£15), which wasn’t the most original dish but was good in the way you’d want. Sadly the poor old bream hadn’t been given his due time in the pan, and his skin was left soggily clamped to his flesh rather than crisped up as I would have liked. But all was forgiven (several greedy mouthfuls over) when I tried Chopper’s slow roasted pork shoulder tortelloni.
Now that was a dish worth writing a review for.
The engorged three-quarter moons of freshly-made pasta dripped with melted butter and split open to reveal bellies full of deeply meaty tender pork. Some might say it was overly rich, but, mamma mia, it was Italy from head to boot. I loved it.
Having porked, we were feeling a little soporific, as you do, so we erred on the lighter side of the desert menu. Rhubarb and prosecco sorbet was refreshing and light, and you could taste both flavours clearly – which, after all, is what you want with a sorbet. (Antico offers at least three gelato and sorbetto, all £4). Sadly raspberry and grappa pannacotta (£5) was a bit of a disaster. I’m sorry to say it was basically sugary cream in a mug, wetter than a Jubilee weekend and a good couple of hours from setting. It didn’t evoke the tastes the menu had oh-so-temptingly suggested either.
And I say I’m sorry about that because we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves other than that slippery mishap. The staff were charming, the food – although not flawless through every dish – was nonetheless very tasty, the other tables were all chatting away happily, and, for the last few hours of our short-lived slice of summer in Southwark, we were almost 1,200 miles away in a much sunnier part of Europe.
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