Pasta-only restaurants seem to have become a thing of late: think, Padella, Lina Stores, Flour & Grape, Pastaio. London is spoilt for choice, with young professionals happy to queue and pay for what is a relatively simple dish. It’s a great business concept after all: short menu, no-fuss approach, good wine – the dish offers potential for a high-profit margin. And for restaurants, its photo-sharing potential seems to be an ingredient in its renewed popularity: a cursory glance through Instagram is awash with curated snapshot of the dish. Perhaps part of its surge is also its sense of comforting facility: pasta evokes childhood memories and holiday associations. Being able to taste something in our mind’s eye definitely seems to be at play here.
To be successful, though, a pasta restaurant requires flawless execution. Whilst it’s a truth now universally acknowledged (or at least in London) that Padella does so effortlessly well, such that its customers are willing to wait in hour long queues snaking around Borough Market for a plate of pappardelle, Bancone takes reservations. And what’s more, it’s conveniently located just off the Strand, a stone’s throw away from Trafalgar Square.
Whilst they accept bookings, though, Bancone stick to those bookings very seriously. Arriving three minutes past our booking time of 8.15pm, they immediately called me to check-in on our whereabouts. That was notwithstanding the fact that my companion had arrived 15 minutes prior to that to check whether they had any early availability. Following their response in their negative, they’d abruptly shown her towards the door out…Frustratingly, though, Bancone can get away with this. At least tonight they did anyway: keen to enjoy a bowl or two of their pasta, we killed time in nearby Terroir wine bar before returning, as planned, for our reservation.
Set up by chef Louis Korovilas, formerly of Pied a Terre and Locanda Locatelli, Bancone’s kitchen has impressive pedigree. Meaning “bar” or “counter”, Bancone occupies a long, white room with marble-topped counters in front of the open kitchen where my companion and I sat for the evening. For me, bar stools always offer the best position in the house: in front of us was the theatre of the kitchen, with tubs of each shape of pasta laid-out before us – perfect for menu choosing.
The concept behind the menu is very simple: Antipasti, Pasta and Dessert. To start, we went for a plate of Charred hispi cabbage, chilli, garlic & 2017 Planeta olive oil (£5). Well seasoned and charred, I was stunned by how flavoursome cabbage can be. Scattered with well-chopped red and green chillies, and a good amount of garlic, the end result had a fiery kick.
Moving onto pasta, whilst I’d heard good things about their classic Roman cacao e pepe, amazingly, they had a vegan option on the menu : Maccheroncini cavolo nero, risina beans and toasted buckwheat (£8.50). It was hard not to be mesmerised by the finish. The nutty topping of toasted pine nuts and buckwheat was so generous that each mouthful had a nut-to-pasta ratio which was very much in the favour of the former – perfectly suited to my palette. The Cavelo nero ribbons were also well-seasoned, enveloping the maccheroni very well.
Affordable, simple and satisfying, Bancone is perfect for a mid-week supper. There’s something inherently authentic and convivial about pasta too – ideal for a catch-up bite. For me, Bancone lived up to its hype. Given that pasta is a blank canvas for seasonal produce, its versatility means Bancone regularly change their menu. I’d certainly return to try more, especially given its super convenient spot.
Bancone, 39 William IV Street, London WC2N 4DD