Thank God for Gregg Wallace's Kitchen. If it wasn't for the failing, empty echoing temple to celebrity 'chef'dom under the Bermondsey Square Hotel you might be forgiven for thinking that all you needed for restaurant success was an SE1 postcode.
Bermondsey Street has, with the aforementioned exception, become a real hub for local foodies in recent years. One can only hope that the minions soon to be besuitedly beetling away in the nearby Shard don't notice, it's busy enough already round here.
On a night where I needed to prove my restaurant picking credentials to a discerning guest, the street didn't let me down. You have to have pretty big balls to open a new Italian a few doors down from local legend Zucca and hot newcomer Pizarro, but luckily there are cojones aplenty here.
Initially I'm not overly keen on the space. Tables are fairly crowded and the leather clad seating is not conducive to comfortable dining on a warm summer's night. The less said about a windowless downstairs bar that reminded me of a suburban swinger's playroom the better. Thank goodness you're not here for the room.
Starters were simple and faultless. Firm and creamy mozzarella paired well with heritage tomatoes and basil infused artichoke hearts, my guest's crab vanished in similar short order and there were another 4 or 5 I could have happily scoffed.
Soft, succulent and fully flavoured lamb shoulder is one of the best dishes of its type I've experienced. Juicy fat rendered perfectly into thick pink lozenges of flavour and succulence. Sitting proud on a thick bed of silken almost creamy caponata, a rich Italian peasant aubergine and olive stew, the two parts of the dish were made for each other. Roasted baby potatoes sat alongside, outside skin puckered from the oven heat, inside softness soaking the incredible juices up. As Gregg might say wistfully peering over the road from his empty dining room, "Lamb. Doesn't. Get. Better. Than. This". Elsewhere on the menu there are a handful of homemade pastas, each with a seasonal accompaniment and further hits from a very busy grill. Given the focus on flesh, this is somewhere I'll be revisiting in the autumn, though maybe not with veggie guests.
The wine list is consise, interesting and reasonably priced. You can drop a ton plus on a Barolo if you must, but there's plenty around £30. £32 for a Primitivo is certainly more than you'd pay in Puglia, but is a snip compared to a similar quality bottle of the same stuff in Locanda Locatelli.
While it may not be so pretty, it certainly holds its own among starry neighbours and along with them seems to have no problems pulling them through the doors. Keen pricing for simple tasty food that people want to eat, whatever the weather. Maybe Gregg needs to take some tips.