Don’t be fooled by my surname, I am as Italian as Yorkshire pudding.
In a far more natural way than the Instagram-fuelled latest smashed-avo-nduja-sausage-Bao-bun trend splatters, we appear to be seeing a subtle south London renaissance of Italian regional dining.
POP favourite Trattoria Franzina is moving from sea container to Coldharbour Lane (we’ll be visiting shortly), Tuscan Maremma is opening soon (ditto), Clapham is swooning at Robin Gill’s trip along the Amalfi coast, Sorella… and the people behind Canova Hall have transformed another chunk of the former Bon Marché department store into cocktail and pasta bar Cattivo.
In south London, Italian doesn’t belong to Jamie.
Cattivo is aesthetically far removed from the classic Italian Trattoria with multi-generations of the same family behind the stove, front of house and everything in between. Tongue in cheekily meaning “naughty”, Cattivo is all high-ceilinged, open-plan expansion with bare plastered walls, stripped-back cement columns and floor-to-ceiling windows with cosy little candlelit booths. And as sibling to Canova Hall across the road, cocktails.
The faithful menu offers cicchetti (bar snack nibbles), starter-sized sharing plates and a collection of ragu and meatball pastas. We had frico (fried parmesan crisps) and fried anchovies with our cocktails before pecorino crocchettas with pea, mint and watercress pesto accompanied by indulgently creamy burrata with heritage tomatoes, rocket pesto, spinach and focaccia. Could the croquettes have been, for want of a better word, “cheesier”? Yes, but pleasing all the same, and the salad was crisp and fresh as a new shirt collar.
In the end though, if you are pitching what Cattivo is pitching, you live or die on the pasta and the meats and sauces. Despite the slick modernity of the space, these are pretty much classic recipes, little different from the traditional, or that scene in Godfather 1 where Peter Clemenza, one of the Don’s “caporegimes” teaches Michael (Al Pacino) how to cook meatballs.
There are decent nods to the non-meat eaters, beetroot gnocchi, and Mrs B chose the truffle and pecorini tortelloni with salsa di noci and crispy sage. They do ricotta “meatballs”, even though that is a contradiction in terms, alongside spicy pork, and beef with Sicilian sausage – though I chose slow and deep beef pappardelle.
And the verdict? Reassuringly good, as in no à la mode reinventions, deconstructions or elevations, just a good low, slow-simmered beef, a rich sauce and nice fresh pappardelle (large, wide pasta ribbons – think tagliatelle’s big brother).
Our main problem was eating it all. We could have passed on frico and starters and still possibly be full. The tortellini was rich with hint of pecorino and the creamy walnut and herb sauce.
Similar to my Yorkshire relatives, Italians simply don’t want you leaving anything close to empty. So nice though they are, maybe don’t get too lost in the starters on the way to the pastas? Clemenza would approve, then pop out and execute the heads of the five families.
207 Ferndale Road, SW9 8BA | 020 3096 2236 | cattivobar.com | @CattivoBar