Flour & Grape, Bermondsey Street
I remember going to an Ask in Grantham when I was probably nine or ten years old. To little me – who would have been happy in (and probably preferred) McDonalds – it felt like the height of sophistication.
People were in suits. There was exposed brick. The waiters were friendly and polite. We were fussed over. There were all these new types of pasta which I’d never seen before. I felt like we were in a restaurant in a film or on telly. That was the only connection I had to what I was experiencing. I had sat in venues to eat in before, but this was different. This was a venue whose sole purpose was to bring pleasure to people through eating.
It’s fair to say I didn’t have a eureka moment in terms of food. There was no dish that set a fire in my belly with an apetite to discover more about food, though I’m sure the macaroni cheese was spot on. And yet, despite the fact I have a sieve-like memory, that experience has stayed with me over two decades later.
Starting any restaurant is hard. Each new report about restaurant closures seems more damning than the last. Trying to build an Italian feels instinctively one of the hardest. Long before Brits gained a sense of adventure in their palates, there were still good local Italian restaurants. Our knowledge and exposure to Italians is so much higher.
Last weekend, we visited Flour & Grape at the southernly end of Bermondsey Street.
Eagle-eyed among you will remember Italian Antico on the same site closed in summer last year due to rising costs. Flour & Grape is the same team: led by Theo Randall-trained Nick Crspini and Adam Czmiel.
Flour & Grape follows various macro trends in London: small menus, wine by the glass, great value.
There are seven small plates (£4-£8), and eight pastas (£7-£10). They recommend three per two, but we had a small and a pasta each and were perfectly satisfied for lunch. The yin to the Flour‘s yang is their focus on wine. Here they have 25 wines available by the glass, with only a very small handful reserved for bottle only. Each dish on one side of the menu recommends a different wine on the flipside. A great way to be introduced to less familiar wines.
I started with the baby gem, peas, broad beans and tropea onion (£5) to start, which if this was on a menu in the 90s Italian would have been called ‘A Taste of Spring.’ This was everything a salad should be. I ignored the wine suggestion instead opting for their pinot nero (£8), a so-called ‘great alternative to Burgundy’. That it was not, much more varietal than terroir expression, but it was nice nonetheless. LA went for the lightly smoked salmon, with horseradish and caper sauce (£6). Both starters were well done, and comforting.
The roasted pork shoulder tortelloni with sage butter (£9) however was a showstopper. Pork, sage and butter has to be one of my three favourite flavour combinations (other two being (1) red wine, beef and mushrooms, and (2) butter, shallots, white wine and lemon). It takes restraint in a great pasta dish to show these ingredients off. A pork and sage ragout loses the elegance and becomes stocky. The tortelloni however is a different story. I could have eaten plate after plate of this and been a very happy man.
LA’s mussels linguine (£9) was also delicious. The mussels were large, contributing to a deeply seafoody dish that carried some weight and bravado. Ironic really, that that the butch pork and sage showed more elegance.
With the main, I opted for a glass of ‘Bierno, Palladino.’ Here, the montepulciano, aglianico blend works a treat. This is velvety but rustic and I made a note to buy a botttle or two of this separately to really dig into it.
There’s a nice vibe in Flour & Grape. Given it’s Bermondsey Street address, it’s clear why it feels as designed as it is, but it’s still not fussy. That Saturday lunchtime I spotted two people eating alone in there: which to me is always a very good sign.
Things have come a long way since my first ever restaurant experience. And given that my first was an Ask, any comparison would feel unfortunately tainted. And yet, I remember the Ask experience because it opened my eyes up to something new. In 2018, when you eat out a lot, it’s hard for ‘perfectly executed ‘ to become the norm. Flour & Grape do exceed that. Taking a concept and actually putting their own face on it. Perfectly executed and great value they’ve done, but they bring something else to the table too. And that’s worth writing about.