I hurriedly made a reservation during L’anima Cafe‘s soft opening around a month ago, if I’m honest on the merit of just a couple of items that had been brought to my attention via social media. It’s often the way. One or two dishes will naturally capture the imagination and litter Instagram with echoes of their image. Recently, we’ve been subjected to *that* polenta at Palomar, *that* lahmacun at Arabica, *those* crab doughnuts at Chiltern Firehouse and on and on it will continue, one image shining like a beacon of promise from each new spot. Here? Well it was a multitude of similar images of *that* N’duja bread, and a smear of that same n’duja on the side of a plate of ragu pasta.
It’s the fun, younger sister restaurant to ostentatious (read expensive) Italian restaurant L’anima, which I’ve never been too. Greeted by a slightly odd European tableau just inside the doorway of a scooter and baskets of produce, I ask for a seat at the bar as I’m dining alone. My first experience isn’t the most amazing, maybe a little awkward as I feel they’re bemused (?) by my desire to dine at the bar, though a guy next to me is, but the food and service is nice, and relaxed enough for me to want to return – it’s their first week after all. And I do.
On that first visit, a starter portion of beef carpaccio with blue cheese and walnuts is generous and all-of-the-tasty but it’s the tiny scroll of bread, that’s really a mini pastry, from the fabled bread trolley that draws a delighted gasp, and it’s the deeply satisfying ragu that I tuck into with gusto. It’s the fiery heat within the leaves of pastry of that roll that plays on my mind and the smear on the side of my pasta plate, smoky with buckets of flavour and spice, that sees me keen to make a hasty re-visit.
In fact, the next time I’m within the depths of the city I pop into the deli, attached to the cafe, to have a nose. The deli actually offers a third, and even more casual, dining option with a rather nice selection of deli items, sandwiches, freshly cooked pasta and cakes (hey pistachio croissant and doughnuts) to take away or sit in. It’s a nice space for a quick, informal lunch and although I like the cafe, I find it very large and slightly lacking in charm and character (though the staff have plenty). I have eyes only for a slab of n’duja that I purchase for just £7.50, and I scuttle away with the taste of spicy Calabrian promise on my lips.
I return for a third visit for lunch with a group of friends, determined to beat a fast track to more of that pasta, however it turns out we’re in the hands of the restaurant (nice surprise!) and some lovely dishes start to arrive along with lubricating prosecco. First though, we’re wheeled out that bread trolley, something I missed out on during former visits, a couple of pouches containing a selection of their various breads are left with us, a trio of dips including a smoky aubergine and more of that n’duja, with some extra of the scrolls at our request. Those scrolls. That n’duja. A group of starters is a little seafood heavy for my tastes, but my friends quickly mop up, each is lovely and vibrant, the burrata a fantastic specimen of it’s kind.
I’d been trying to eye up the pizza on previous visits and so I’m pleased when one is brought before us, a scorched beauty anointed with more nduja (happy faces all round) with more meat and topped with milky, raw mozzarella. It’s good. Maybe not quite Pizza Pilgrims good, but still we enjoy every last bite. Cocktails and desserts, of which a panna cotta and cassata are favourites, cap an epic weekday lunch.
I spend the following week ingesting it in various guises as it finds itself in every meal taken at home and probably will do until it’s used up, and then I shall buy some more.
If you know me at all, you’ll know it christened a shakshuka and accompanied some fritters, it also stole the show of some cheese on toast. And then….
Avocado on toast? With n’jua and halloumi? YES. With an egg for brunch? Yup.
Hash of potatoes, broad beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, spring onions,? With n’duja? YES.
N’duja fried aubergine with spring onions on toast? MASSIVE YES.
Winner? For me it has to be a toastie. Which, considering it’s still August seems to herald the oncoming of the next season. You know that point in Summer when something shifts? There’s an inkling of Autumn. The air has a certain briskness to it’s edges and you’re suddenly aware of leaves rustling, the light sits low and colours are gilded with a saturation that brings on a yearning for wool and boots. Don’t get me wrong, I’m egging the Summer on to continue for as long as it can. But a couple of days ago, I also had the distinct feeling that it was on it’s way out and surrendering itself to Autumn.
It’s funny that as much as I love the reality of peaches, as an idea they inspire very little in me. I blame their overexposure in dodgy desserts and synthetic scents of my childhood. Yet one sniff of the aroma from a real, ripe peach makes me go all funny. Every time.
I’ve already made this toastie a number of times and I’m not over it yet. So simple but effective, it’s just buttered bread (BOTH sides), then layer up n’duja, wafer thin peach and grated Comte cheese.
The beauty of Summer and Autumn colliding.