Fadiga, 71 Berwick Street, London W1F 8TB (020 3609 5536). Starters £8-£12, mains £9-£18, desserts £8-£9, wines from £25
I knew there was a point to my ludicrous hair. It’s this review. Because without my midlife crisis expressed through the medium of glossy tresses, I would not have been introduced to Fadiga. It describes itself as a “Ristorante Bolognese”, and occupies a tiny site on Berwick Street in London’s Soho. It’s located right next to where I go to be dealt with by the brilliant Filipe, a man who exudes quiet confidence in the face of great challenges. With immense forbearance he excavates something meaningful from the chaos of my endlessly explosive bouffant.
While he does so, we talk: the usual stuff, which is to say the staggeringly intimate and profound subjects that any right-thinking person interrogates with their hairdresser. Regularly, he commiserates with me over brutally false allegations on social media that I’ve been dyeing my hair. For God’s sake people, look at my beard. Surely, I’d have dyed that, too, if I was trying to deceive. Once, with perfect mock solemnity, Filipe offered to issue an official statement confirming it was all model’s own. I still have him on standby for that.
We also talk restaurants, which is why he mentioned the new place downstairs. It was odd. New restaurants need to hit the ground running to start making back the investment, so breathless news always pops up online. But of Fadiga, I had heard nothing. Once he’d done with me, and swept up enough from the floor to make a newly shorn sheep ache with jealousy, we went down to the street. We stood outside the narrow restaurant, side by side, and stared in through the big window at the cool, clean lines of the wood-floored 10-seater dining room, with its glass display case of freshly made pastas.
Apparently, Filipe said, the chef was a bit “out there”. I found my way to the restaurant’s new-born Instagram account, which suggested this might well be so: here were images of candy-striped tortellini looking like humbugs and rhubarb and custard sweets. Here were ravioli in rainbow colours, or filled with blueberries or pear and goat’s cheese. It was both diverting and a touch worrying.
Based on a lovely dinner there I can tell you this was all merely come-hither window dressing, though only of the electronic kind. The actual window dressing is courtesy of the ribbons of egg yolk-yellow tagliatelle they sometimes roll and cut on the wide marble sill hard against the real window. When we arrive for dinner, that marble slab is scattered with the promise of squid ink black tortellini. They are made, like all the pastas here, by Michela Pappi. The dishes are then cooked by her husband Enrico Fogli and served by their daughter Carlotta. In Bologna the family ran hotels, before coming to the UK four years ago to run a catering company. Now they have this restaurant, which carries the maiden name of Enrico’s late mother.
Here’s what you need to know: that pasta, made daily, is bloody lovely, full of the requisite slipperiness and bite and tension. There are nine main dishes, all priced in the mid-teens, supplemented by a trio of specials. Despite the exuberance on display on Instagram (a lockdown project, Carlotta later tells me; her mum just got bored), it’s all comfortingly familiar. There is pappardelle with a wild mushroom sauce, or tagliolini with summer truffles. There are ricotta tortelli with tomato and basil, squid ink bucatini with seafood, and gnocchi in a butter and sage sauce. Portions are for those with ambitious appetites; if you ask, they will happily split a dish between two so you can try more.
We have tagliatelle with their 12-hour ragu. It is everything the dish should be. The beef and pork in that meaty sauce have slumped down after all that languid time in each other’s company to become the richest and glossiest of stews, which cling to every ribbon of pasta. From the specials list there are those squid ink tortellini from the window, as black as an unlit night, as soft and silky as a duck down pillow, and filled with the bright white of filleted seabass. They come in a punchy mess of squid and mussels and the sweetest of cherry tomatoes just waiting to burst against the roof of your mouth.
And then there is that classic: tortellini in brodo di cappone, the calming place where Italian mamas and Jewish mothers meet to realise their destiny as feeders. The clearest and most intense of chicken broths bobs with a generous serving of tiny curls of pasta filled with minced pork and parmesan. It is a steamy bowl you want to lean over and stare into; it is food as place of safety.
I would be failing in my role as reporter if I left it there. Fadiga really is all about the fabulous pasta. There’s a very short list of starters and they are rugged, sturdy affairs. Alongside a plate of salami and ham, there’s an intensely northern Italian dish of crisp beef meatballs under a duvet of ham and cheese; there are scallops, grilled under thick drifts of buttery golden breadcrumbs. Both come with those cubed roasted potatoes to which the Italians cleave, slightly weirdly. Tonight there are just three desserts and one of those, a strawberry tiramisu, has run out. A new batch has just been made, we are told, but the cream hasn’t yet set. Instead, we have a mildly rigid coffee panna cotta and a zuppa inglese, that comedic take on the trifle, with layers of pink syrup-soaked sponge and cream and fruit. It is certainly pretty.
At one point after the starters, we receive an apology for the lengthy wait and the offer of a drink on the house. I am baffled by the delay, given there are only four of us eating up here in this tiny dining room. It turns out that downstairs there is a large table of diners being taken through a pasta tasting menu. Oh, and the sous chef has gone missing. There is about it all the slightly nervy air of a new venture finding its feet, but in the sweetest and most beguiling of ways. Fadiga deserves all the love. Incidentally, it turns out that the shiny display case is not just for show. You can buy their pastas to take home. They cost from £1.50 per 100g for the simple ribbons, to £4.50 for the more luxuriously filled shapes. It means I can now get a masterful hair cut and sort out dinner at the same time. Result. Thank you, Filipe. Thank you, Fadiga.
Chef Simon Rogan of the Cumbrian restaurant L’Enclume has launched a set of ‘cook at home’ recipe boxes through the North of England supermarket chain Booths. The boxes, featuring ingredients from Booths suppliers, cost £20 each, serve two people and are available to order via the Booths website for collection in store. The first three boxes are Rogan’s salt baked celeriac, cod loin and roasted cauliflower and chicken breast with creamed kale. At booths.co.uk.
The disaster relief charity Shelter Box has published a collaborative novel, Tamesis Street, shining a spotlight on the impact of climate change on global communities through a fictional account of the flooding of London in the near future. The writers include Bill Bryson, Joanne Harris, Sarah Waters, Mike Leigh and, er, me. It gets a mention here because my chapter contains an awful lot about biscuits. To get a free copy sign up to the Shelter Box book club.
Also just published is The Female Chef, with words by Clare Finney and Photographs by Liz Seabrook. It features interviews with, recipes by and images of some of the leading women in the British food scene. They include Nokx Majozi of the Holborn Dining Rooms, vegetarian food writer Anna Jones and Andi Oliver of both Wadadli Kitchen and the BBC’s Great British Menu. Copies can be ordered via the Hoxton Mini Press.
Email Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1