This one is a proper little gem. Seafood and wine are two of the great joys of life and Baccalà is brilliant at both. The Italian restaurant was founded by four friends, one of whom is the sommelier and another head chef, so you know to expect that personal touch from the moment you walk through the door.
Everything about the place screams labour of love, from the stylish decor (duh: Italian) to the background music so perfectly curated that I only noticed its existence at the desert course. Financial investment is all well and good but it’s the emotional investment that really makes Baccalà sing.
You know there’s an olive oil tasting menu? A list of olive oils with tasting notes and suggested food pairings? Fabio de Nicola, aforementioned founder and sommelier, will talk you through all of them. He cares, and because he cares you will care, too.
Saying that, all the emotional investment in the world will count for nothing if that food doesn’t hold up. Which brings us to…
How’s the food?
Fantastic, I’m delighted to report. Head chef – and founder – Moreno Polverini has crafted a menu specialising in seafood, pasta and occasionally a combination of the two. Baccalà prioritises quality over quantity: the menu isn’t the biggest but my word does it deliver. The fact every dish is also listed in Italian reinforces that most desirable of qualities that can’t be faked: authenticity.
Kick things off with a plate of oysters, all native to the UK and wonderful with a limoncello spritz. For starters we opted for the roasted octopus with “colonnata” lard, marinated bell peppers, olives and basil, along with homemade olive-wood smoked salmon, trombetta courgette, taggiasca olives and oyster leaf. Both are bonafide home runs that were polished off in a matter of seconds – the octopus especially left me wanting more.
However you want to leave plenty of room for a pasta dish. Now there are several pasta dishes available and I have no doubt whatsoever that all will be delicious so follow your gut when it comes to ordering. But the maccheroncini with prawns, long pepper, lemon and bottarga is comfortably one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten. It comes in a casserole dish and has this wonderful zesty, lemony flavour that combined with the prawns adds up to something very special. I’m not saying you must order it but you really must order it.
Our other main course of salted cod, sautéed escarole and yellow datterino was great, super light and fresh, but man the maccheroncini on another level. If I had my time again, I’d go for another pasta dish and see how it compared. Do it for me and report back. Assuming you have room for dessert, almond milk panna cotta and tiramisu round things off very nicely. The panna cotta is ideal if stomach space is running low – as it will be if you order two pasta courses. As you should. Or maybe just the maccheroncini, twice.
What to drink?
Baccalà takes its wine as seriously as it takes its pasta. The wine list runs to three pages and is divided into multiple different taste categories: structured & buttery white, bodied & complex red. The wines are supplied by more than 100 independent Italian producers spread across all 20 regions of Italy. You are spoiled for choice, emphasis on the spoiled.
Unsure of the best pairing with your food? Ask Fabio. He guided us to a superb Grillo from Sicily that went down an absolute treat. My friend even inquired after the supplier in order to secure a bottle for herself.
Oh, and don’t forget your limoncello spritz – a delightful palate cleanser, even if you forgo the oysters. Which you obviously shouldn’t because oysters are great.
Will it bankrupt me?
Quality food doesn’t come cheap but Baccalà won’t have you remortgaging the house. Most of the dishes range between £10 to £20, with the starters closer to the former and the main courses the latter. Whatever you order, you’ll know where your money goes.
As you might imagine, the wines are far more eclectic. Several bottles are available for under £30, several break three figures – with the Terlaner “Primo” Grande Cuvée DOC Magnum kicking ass and taking names at £625. We double dare you.
Anything else to note?
Baccalà sells a range of olive oil and wines in its online shop, including a sommelier’s selection of six bottles either fresh and crisp, smooth and fruity or bodied and round. Take some Italy home with you.
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194 Bermondsey St, SE1 3TQ; Baccalà