From the most excellent dudes and dudettes who brought you Trullo in Highbury & Islington comes London’s latest stupid-buzzy, Insta-meltdown, no-bookings sensation. Located on the edge of the main entrance to Borough Market, Padella – an understated white tile and marble pasta bar has a queue round the block, come rain or shine. Having opened in March, its “pici cacio e pepe” pasta looked like the month’s most Instagrammed food item – and where this kind of plate obsession normally has me bitching like a 2 year old whose ice-cream fell onto the pavement, I can see why.
I have now enjoyed this creamy, piquant, smooth and vaguely porno “cucina povera” (poor cooking) dish at Padella twice. A staple of the Roman recipe repertoire, “cacio e pepe” is – in a nutshell – a very simple sauce made of cacio cheese – a tangy, sheep’s milk Pecorino style fromage, reduced into a velvet cream with the pasta’s cooking water, with a bitching ton of whole ground peppercorns stirred in – the thick, “pici” pasta smothered in its rich goodness.
Pici are a hand-rolled, thick spaghetti – here handmade daily to satisfy the clawing hordes – really, it’s a bit Walking Dead out there in the queue. So much so that Padella closes daily between 2-5 pm to roll out more deliciously soft and golden pasta sheets and shapes.
Despite the obvious availability of seats when queuing, we discover that as the crowd is so ridiculously ravenous and plentiful they simply cannot roll and cook the pasta fast enough to satisfy the full house. So to ensure each dish is perfectly dolled up and each bum on seat perfectly satisfied, they carefully manage the outside trail of hungry hopefuls to make sure no one is left hungry or sent an under-cooked or soggy plate.
The menu overall is pared down to the bare bones of 8-10 pasta classics, a couple of antipasti and a couple of deserts. Enough to pique curiosity, but not so much you feel challenged. The quality of everything I tried was approaching to as close to Rome as have had in London – not just in flavour and cooking, but in the utter simplicity and no-frills of the service and presentation. You want Burrata? You get Burrata. Plonked on a plate, doused in ridiculously scrumptious, green appley olive oil and voila. No added faff necessary. Did I mention it is stonking quality Burrata?
Likewise thick slices of fennely-Tuscan sausage. Boffed onto a plate, no fuss, just gets it to you fast enough to devour hungrily without ceremony.
My Tagliatelle with Nduja and Parsley numbed my lips pleasantly with a fruity sharpness and smooth, oily red yumness that this Calabrian spreadable sausage goodness imparts when softened over hot pasta.
We were in and out in 45 minutes. Fed, buzzed, reeling at the joy of somewhere that really focuses on the nitty gritty of fab produce and flavour, flavour, flavour. The Insta-hype is real – the pasta is that good.
If queuing, bring sandwiches.