Writer Amanda David visits 10 Heddon Street and doesn't leave enough room for pudding. Is a second visit on the cards?
10 Heddon Street is a restaurant residency (i.e. pop-up) at, um, 10 Heddon Street – just off Regent Street, along from Momo and Sabor, on the old Magpie site. It's a new venture from chefs David Carter (Smokestak) and Chris Leach (Pitt Cue Soho, Sager & Wilde, Kitty Fisher's and Petersham Nurseries) offering Italian food influenced by their use of local British produce. Oh, and they have an amaro bar.
10 Heddon Street is the first offering from a new 'agile approach' taken by the landlord, Crown Estate; a series of short-term lets providing a way for would-be restaurateurs to test new concepts before committing to a long-term lease. I confess that I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I can hardly complain about a series of exciting new projects and collaborations opening in a venue that doesn't involve me venturing beyond the reaches of the tube map like some latter-day Captain Cook. But then skyrocketing rents and taxes, together with the cult of the new, have contributed to the slow deaths of many great, creative restaurants – Magpie among them.
Either way, it was good to see the site occupied again. We were early for our table so perched ourselves at the amaro bar and decided to make a start on the menu. Sat next to the open kitchen, I noticed one of the chefs take a huge and truly glorious focaccia, fragranced with rosemary and glittering with sea salt, from the oven; it was then liberally doused with an excellent grassy, peppery olive oil and served warm.
If I produced something as majestic as this from my kitchen, I could die happy. We had ours with a heap of house-made mortadella which genuinely melted in the mouth. The last time I ate David Carter's food, he was manhandling half a side of beef out of a four-and-a-half tonne smoker at his Shoreditch restaurant Smokestak.
So these delicate, almost translucent slices of the softest mortadella studded with pepper and tiny delicious pearls of fat show a completely different side to his skills.
Given that we were sat at the bar, it would surely have been rude not to try something from their list. Amari (plural of amaro) are Italian herbal liqueurs with bittersweet, sometimes almost medicinal, notes; think of the flavours of an Aperol Spritz, Campari Soda or a classic Negroni. We opted for a Zucca Rabarbaro with lemon and mint, and an Artigianale Argalá with orange zest. I'm rather partial to Amari, but they can be a bit challenging if you tend to prefer sweeter drinks.
Luckily there are also wines by the glass, Moretti beer and home-made alcohol-free options available. Talking of wines, it is an interesting list, but pricey. There's not much choice under £40 a bottle, and the one we chose was out of stock. Our genuinely helpful waiter happily brought us tasters of available alternatives. But with our pasta dishes averaging a very reasonable £9 each, the £45 bottle of wine we ended up with was a disproportionately hefty part of the final bill.
Moving to our table, the first pasta up was the sweetcorn ravioli – perfectly cooked with a rich, sweet, intensely-flavoured filling, sprinkled with pan-fried girolles and peppery young nasturtium leaves. This lovely dish had, for me, the most obviously British twist with its summer-posy prettiness and is likely to grace many an Instagram feed over the next few months.
Tonnarelli cacio e pepe with brown crab was a delicious twist on the classic, showcased at Leach's takeover of Hackney's Silver Lining in May. I should admit here that I adore crab, and can be relied upon to order pretty much any dish on any menu that features it. This did not disappoint. Interestingly, brown crab also scores high in the sustainability stakes, complementing the restaurant's no waste and nose-to-tail philosophies.
Rigatoni with sausage ragu and Calabrian chilli was a substantial, satisfying dish with a kick which will come into its own as autumn rolls in; the menu changes regularly depending on available produce but has previously featured a spicy pig tail ragu that I would like to try.
Whatever you order, don't miss the herb and fennel salad; I promise it will be the perfect accompaniment to absolutely anything. Fresh, fragrant, carefully balanced, served with finely chopped red chilli and a citrus dressing, it is an English summer garden on a plate.