There is something profoundly admirable about a restaurant setting out its store in its name. ‘Burger and Lobster’; ‘Flesh and Buns’; and now, ‘Flour and Grape’. (My own fantasy, that one day a restaurant will open simply entitled ‘Meat and Wine’, must alas wait a little longer.) Situated on the ever-so-buzzy Bermondsey Street, in what used to be Zucca, Flour and Grape offers something exceptionally simple; inexpensive Italian dishes, paired with excellent wines and cocktails, at prices that, while hardly giveaway, are nonetheless low for the high quality of the food being offered.
Comparisons have been made with nearby Padella in Borough Market, and will no doubt continue to be. This is what we’d say, after carefully weighing up the pros and cons of both. Padella is slightly cheaper, albeit by a pound or so for a main course, and has more of a ‘name’. Flour and Grape does superior pasta (the cacio e pepe is one of the best things that I’ve eaten this year), has the blessed advantage of being able to book, has a more interesting selection of antipasti and desserts and a far superior wine list.
Thus, it’s not at all hard to award Flour and Grape the accolade of ‘best pasta restaurant in SE1’, a category that once might have seemed an uncompetitive one, but is now a keenly fought and mightily contested one. Although, to be honest, it is a blessing that visitors can have both Flour and Grape and Padella within a short walk (or stagger) from one another; the choice of experience is down to you.
However, there is something relaxing for the slightly older man or woman about being able to walk in, sit at a table (ideally on a comfortable sofa) and order really excellent food, served with charm and pizzazz. A Bermondsey gin and tonic, made from both local gin and nearby tonic water, hits the spot perfectly as an aperitif, helped by the generous twist of orange, and then it’s onto contemplation of the small plates, which are heavy on delicious ingredients (burrata, prosciutto, endive with gorgonzola and some really very fine truffled mortadella) and presented very simply. Accompanied by a good bottle of 2015 Greco di Tufo, this would serve more than amply as a light lunch or snack in its own right.
But it’s the pasta that we’re here for, and we do a decent job of getting quite a bit of it down us, in the interests of research. We attempt the predominantly carnivorous options; pappardelle with beef short-rib and very fine, very tender pork tortelloni are both excellent, but, as mentioned before, the cacio e pepe bucatini is the stuff from which happy dreams are made. Plus, at £7 a dish, it’s not going to break the bank either, meaning that, if you were both so inclined and tending to gluttony, you could have another attempt at it. Although you are unlikely to leave hungry, under any circumstances.
Desserts tend towards the minimalist, although the chocolate and hazelnut budino- a kind of mousse – has a satisfyingly silky finish, and the tiramisu gelato is a nice take on a pudding that has been served, to different degrees of competence, in every Italian restaurant since time immemorial. Washed down with a gin espresso martini – an interesting and unusual take – it made for the jolliest of repasts.
It would be wrong to overstate what Flour and Grape offers; nobody is expecting Michelin stars to come this way (although the pasta is every bit as good as that at the River Café), and it is happy being a buzzy, unpretentious neighbourhood restaurants. Our only regret, then, is that our neighbourhoods can’t all contain a Flour and Grape; if they did, tearing us away would be the hardest thing imaginable.
Flour & Grape, 214 Bermondsey St, SE1 3TQ. For more information, including menus and opening times, visit www.flourandgrape.com.