January seems to be a great time to bag a bargain, both on the retail front and on the foodie scene. And on this theme, I chose Paesan, which was offering 50% off food for the month, for a catch-up supper with some school friends. Sitting on the corner of Exmouth Market, Paesan is a large, stripped-back, exposed brick, reclaimed furniture-stuffed room serving Italian fare. It almost feels like a large, non-intimate Polpo, with space for riotous parties in their bar downstairs which serves happy hour cocktails from 5-8pm.
Paesan rustle up “cucina povera”, i.e. peasant food. Think arancini, panzanella, hearty pastas etc. The River Café introduced us to the concept of cucina rustica, or Italian country cooking, with its paste-thick bread-and-bean soups. Cucina povera similarly seeks to resurrect the tradition of using simple ingredients to create high quality and flavoursome food. Peasant food as a concept is an odd one: the middle classes adore it and will spend hours slow-cooking. And restaurants use this as a hook to serve cheap ingredients, usually significantly marked up, to crowds of affluent London twenty- and thirty-somethings. But that Paesan were offering their foods for half the price is rather fitting to the beautiful simplicity of the foods they’re celebrating.
My friends enjoyed pasta bowls, which they found rich, hearty and generously portioned – such that two companions couldn’t finish their servings.
In the mood for small plates, I went for a couple of chicetti. First came the Red and golden beetroot salad, served with goat’s cheese and toasted walnuts (£7). Whilst the sweetness of the seasonal beetroot gave the dish a good dose of flavour and complemented the cheese very well, the salad lacked a sound dressing to tie the whole dish together. I also found that there were far too many leaves on the plates in comparison to the key ingredients. Although the kitchen strives to create humble dishes, a little more care would elevate the dish.
More successful was my second dish of Wild mushrooms with grilled polenta and thyme (£7). The polenta was perfectly charred, deliciously oozy on the inside but crispy on the exterior and so well seasoned. The dish has certainly converted me to the polenta grain.
Despite my minor quibbles about the salad, I liked Paesan and the buzz of the place a lot. It has a great location on a vibrant street teeming with great food and the polenta speaks for itself.
Paesan, 2 Exmouth Market EC1R 4PX