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HomeLifestyleFood & RecipesA love letter to my new favourite Italian restaurant in London

A love letter to my new favourite Italian restaurant in London

When you review restaurants, or when you review anything really, for a living, it seems mandatory to find a flaw so as to present a balanced view. This is not one of those reviews. This is, in fact, a love letter to a restaurant that I don’t think gets talked about enough: Legare, your friendly neighbourhood Italian in Tower Bridge.

When it was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2021 – alongside food’s “cool club” favourites Fallow, Flor and Peckham Cellars – it should have blown up. David Sexton gave it an unfavourable review in the Evening Standard and it hasn’t appeared in a national since. I am honestly baffled as to why. Maybe it’s because it opened relatively quietly in 2019 and was almost definitely overshadowed by its bigger, better known counterparts. Maybe it’s because it’s in such close proximity to Padella, one of a wealth of very good Italian (or otherwise appropriated) restaurants in London. In fairness, it is easily missed if you’re not deliberately trying to find it. Maybe it’s because its menu is short and sweet and changes constantly: you will never have the same thing twice, even if you go in the same week. Personally, I think at least two of those reasons are excellent qualities in a restaurant.

Co-founded by Jay Patel (ex-GM of Barrafina) and Matt Beardmore (former chef at Trullo), Legare does things a little differently to its competitors. Where Big Mamma goes… well, big, Legare goes small, intimate, unpretentious and unfussy. Its functional interiors remind me more of a modern Japanese restaurant than an Italian. Don’t be fooled by appearances, though: the food is dynamic and inventive. The menu is compact but that only demonstrates what an underappreciated skill menu-writing is. If you’re able to condense a cuisine as excessive as Italian into fewer than 20 dishes, create a flow and keep it seasonal, competitive and interesting enough to make people want to come back, hats off to you. It’s also the perfect size for both popping in for a quick bite at lunch, or staying for something more substantial at dinner.

When we arrive, hot and bothered in a sticky 25 degrees (those were the days, eh), our charming, impassioned server Alice stops just short of recommending every single thing on the menu. Well, I did tell you it was small. Does that make it harder or easier to choose? Dish envy is definitely more acute on smaller menus. To begin, I treat myself to a single oyster (£4 each), which was (almost alarmingly) large, plump and briny, served the only way it should be: on a bed of ice with shallot vinegar and tabasco. It further cemented my belief that you don’t have to be on the coast – or in Bentley’s to find a decent mollusc and that quality is always better than quantity. They’re often better enjoyed this way, hors d’oeuvres-style.

The seabass carpaccio and trombette courgettes are starters you shouldn’t miss

(Hannah Twiggs)

I can’t remember a restaurant I’ve visited recently where there hasn’t been some kind of crudo-style dish on the menu – a no-cook starter is a boon for time-poor chefs and diners alike, I suppose – but I won’t soon forget Legare’s seabass carpaccio (£20). Subtly sweet raw fish paired with honeymoon melon and fennel is the perfect antidote to the sweltering weather, even better washed down with a chilled glass of the wine special, a Marco de Bartoli Grillo Vignaverde. It’s young, fresh and lively, and suits light seafood as much as it does heavier pasta dishes (all their wines are low intervention if you’re the type of person that cares about that sort of thing). Our second starter are the trombetta courgettes (£12), sliced and marinated in oil, chilli and mint, then topped with a veritable mound of the criminally underrated ricotta salata. If you’ve never had the very NSFW-shaped trombetta, you must go out of your way to get one. More delicately flavoured and less watery than the ones you find in supermarkets here, it’s without doubt one of the best varieties. And served simply like this is without doubt the best way to enjoy it.

Go to Legare for their cannolis, and everything else…

(Hannah Twiggs)

Legare puts up an ample fight in the pasta ring, too. We choose two out of only three options, but when asked by Alice while she was clearing our mopped-clean plates which I preferred, I honestly couldn’t say. The pici (fat, hand-rolled spaghetti) in burro e oro sauce (£16), which literally translates as “butter and gold”, transports me back 15 years to every other weekend spent with my dad. Burro e oro is not gold but onion simmered in pureed tomatoes with a good dose of butter (in this case, the good stuff: brown butter) and it’s exactly what my dad would cook my brother and I, often hours later than intended so we were so hungry we thought it was the best thing in the world. In this job I often feel so much pressure to select the most adventurous thing on the menu – though from experience that doesn’t always mean the best – that I forget how much joy there is in the simple things. This simple thing had a lasting impact: I’ve made at least three variations of it at home since I visited last week.

How could I compare that to the crab ravioli (£22), with charred kernels of sweetcorn, both dried and fresh chillies for a slow burn, omnipresent brown butter and the “milk”, AKA the pulp and juices, you get from squeezing out the corn husk? The result is a much deeper level of flavour that’s both sweet and starchy. It’s a dish that gives you everything: full house flavour, intense satisfaction and just a dash of confusion. Definitely order yourself the freshly baked focaccia (£5) as a mopping tool. It seems almost superfluous to add that we finished with a cannoli (£5 each) to share. It’s a mainstay on the menu and on this occasion was filled with orange-flavoured ricotta cream and dipped in dark chocolate. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: don’t come to me for dessert reviews. But do go to Legare for the cannoli.

In fact, you should go to Legare for… everything. The food. The wine. The vibes. It delivers smart, modern Italian food without pomp, without artifice, but with that all-important endearing service from people who clearly love it as much as I do. My only gripe has nothing to do with the food but with the ventilation: the windows don’t open and with an open kitchen in such a small space, it’s not the one for hot days unless you can get one of the few tables outside. If their recent collabs with the Garden Museum Cafe and 180 Corner on the Strand, or upcoming pop-up at Savour Festival in west London are anything to go by, Legare might finally be coming into its own. I hope this review (if you can even call it that) sends you running there.

Legare, Cardamom Building, 31G Shad Thames, SE1 2YR | [email protected] | legarelondon.com

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