Thu. Aug 18th, 2022

Fadiga, 71 Berwick Street, London W1F 8TB (020 3609 5536). Starters £ 8- £ 12, main courses £ 9- £ 18, desserts £ 8- £ 9, wines from £ 25

I knew there was a point with my ridiculous hair. This is the review. Because without my midlife crisis expressed through the shiny locks, I would not have been introduced to Fadiga. It describes itself as a “Ristorante Bolognese” and occupies a small spot on Berwick Street in London’s Soho. It is located right next door where I go to be treated by the brilliant Filipe, a man who radiates quiet confidence in the face of great challenges. With tremendous patience, he digs something meaningful out of the chaos of my infinitely explosive bouffant.

As he does so, we talk: the usual things, that is, the dizzyingly intimate and deep topics that any high-minded person interrogates with their hairdresser. On a regular basis, he likes me over brutally false claims on social media that I have dyed my hair. For god’s sake, people, look at my beard. I certainly would have colored that too if I were trying to deceive. Once, with perfectly scornful solemnity, Filipe offered to issue an official statement confirming that it was all the model’s own. I still have him on standby for that.

'As soft and silky as a duck down pillow': tortellini with squid with sea bass.
‘As soft and silky as a duck down pillow’: tortellini with squid with sea bass. Photo: Sophia Evans / The Observer

We are also talking about restaurants, which is why he mentioned the new place downstairs. It was odd. New restaurants need to strike to start getting the investment back, so there is always breathless news coming online. But I had heard nothing about Fadiga. When he had done with me and swept enough up from the floor to make a freshly beaten sheep hurt by jealousy, we went down the street. We stood outside the narrow restaurant side by side and stared in through the large window at the cool, clean lines of the 10-person dining room with hardwood floors with its display cabinet with freshly made pastas.

Apparently, Filipe said, the chef was a little “out there.” I found my way to the restaurant’s newborn Instagram account, which suggested it could well be like this: here were pictures of candy-striped tortellini that looked like humbugs and rhubarb and vanilla candy. Here was ravioli in rainbow colors, or filled with blueberries or pear and goat cheese. It was both distracting and a touch worrying.

'That's all the dish should be': tagliatelle with ragu.
‘That’s all the dish should be’: tagliatelle with ragu. Photo: Sophia Evans / The Observer

Based on a lovely dinner there, I can tell you that it was all just window dressing that came here, though only of an electronic nature. The window connection itself is thanks to the bands of egg yolk yellow tagliatelle, they sometimes roll and cut on the wide marble frame hard against the right window. When we arrive for dinner, the marble slab is scattered with the promise of squid black tortellini. They are made, like all the pastas here, by Michela Pappi. The dishes are then prepared 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 business. Now they have this restaurant that bears the maiden name of Enrico’s deceased mother.

Here’s what you need to know: the pasta that is made daily is bloody lovely, full of the necessary smoothness and bite and excitement. There are nine main courses, all priced in their mid-teens, complemented by a trio of offerings. Despite the opulence displayed on Instagram (a lockdown project, Carlotta tells me later; her mother is just bored), the whole thing is comfortingly familiar. There is pappardelle with a wild mushroom sauce or tagliolini with summer truffles. There is ricotta tortelli with tomato and basil, squid bucatini with seafood and gnocchi in butter and sage. Servings are for those with ambitious appetites; if you ask, they like to split a dish between the two so you can try more.

'Grilled under thick drifts of buttery golden breadcrumbs': scallops.
‘Grilled under thick drifts of buttery golden breadcrumbs’: scallops. Photo: Sophia Evans / The Observer

We have tagliatelle with their 12-hour ragu. That’s all the court should be. The beef and pork in the meaty sauce have fallen down after all the dull time in each other’s company to become the richest and brightest of stews that clings to every ribbon of pasta. From the offer list, there are squid tortellini from the window, black as an unlit night, as soft and silky as a duck down pillow and filled with the white of filleted sea bass. They come in a powerful mess of squid and mussels and the sweetest cherry tomatoes just waiting to burst against the roof of your mouth.

And then there’s the classic: tortellini in brodo di cappone, the soothing place where Italian mamas and Jewish mothers meet to realize their destiny as fodder. The clearest and most intense chicken broth boules with a generous serving of small curls of pasta filled with minced pork and parmesan. It is a steaming bowl you will lean over and stare into; it is food as a place of safety.

'It is certainly beautiful': zuppa inglese.
‘It is certainly beautiful’: zuppa inglese. Photo: Sophia Evans / The Observer

I would fail in my role as a reporter if I left it there. Fadiga is really about the amazing pasta. There is a very short list of starters and they are robust, robust matters. Next to a plate of salami and ham, there is an intense northern Italian dish with fresh beef buns under a duvet of ham and cheese; there are scallops, grilled under thick drifts of buttery golden breadcrumbs. Both come with the checkered roasted potatoes that the Italians cleave to, a little weird. Tonight there are only three desserts and one of them, a strawberry tiramisu, has run out. A new batch has just been made, we are told, but the cream has not yet been set. Instead, we have a mildly stiff coffee panna cotta and a zuppa inglese that comically takes on the trifle with layers of pink syrup-soaked mushroom and cream and fruit. It is certainly beautiful.

At some point after the starters, we receive an apology for the long wait and the offer of a drink at the house. I’m amazed at the delay as there are only four of us eating up here in this little dining room. It turns out that downstairs there is a large table with diners taken through a pasta wine tasting menu. Oh, and the sous chef has disappeared. There is about it all the slightly nervous air of a new venture that finds its feet, but in the sweetest and most seductive way. Fadiga deserves all the love. It turns out, by the way, that the shiny display case is not just for display. You can buy their pasta to take home. They cost from £ 1.50 per person. 100g for the simple ribbons for £ 4.50 for the more luxuriously filled forms. That means I can now get a masterful haircut cut and arrange dinner at the same time. Result. Thank you, Filipe. Thank you, Fadiga.

News bites

Chef Simon Rogan from the Cumbrian restaurant L’Enclume has launched a set of ‘chef at home’ recipe boxes through the northern English supermarket chain Booths. The boxes, which contain ingredients from cabin suppliers, cost £ 20 each, serve two people and can be ordered via the Booth website for pick-up at the store. The first three boxes are Rogan’s salt-baked celeriac, cod roast and roasted cauliflower and chicken breast with cream cabbage. On booths.co.uk.

The relief organization Shelter Box has published a collaborative novel, Tamesis Street, which shines a focus on the impact of climate change on global communities through a fictional account of the flooding of London in the near future. Authors include Bill Bryson, Joanne Harris, Sarah Waters, Mike Leigh and, is, me. It gets a mention here because my chapter contains an awful lot about biscuits. To get a free copy, sign up for the Shelter Box book club.

Also just released is The female chef, with words by Clare Finney and photographs by Liz Seabrook. It features interviews with, recipes and photos of some of the leading women in the British food scene. They include Nokx Majozi from Holborn Dining Rooms, vegetarian food writer Anna Jones and Andi Oliver from both Wadadli Kitchen and the BBC’s Fantastic British menu. Copies can be ordered via Hoxton Mini Press.

Email Jay at jay.rayner@observer.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @ jayrayner1

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