21 August 2020

At Legare, a Neighbourhood Italian in Shad Thames

Shad Thames, a historic Bermondsey street one block from the Thames and just east of Tower Bridge, is on my regular running route and I often walk through on my way to or from the river. Earlier this year, I'd spotted a new Italian restaurant in the Cardamom Building — which used to house a branch of Watch House until it moved a few doors down — but kept forgetting to look it up when I got home. By the time I found Legare online, London had gone into lockdown.

Flash forward a few months and I noticed that Legare had reopened for dine-in customers, and although all the Eat Out To Help Out slots were fully booked, I reserved a table for an early post-work supper on Thursday last week. Legare is the Italian for 'to connect' or 'to bind' — including in the sense of binding together ingredients in cooking. And among the customers of the fully booked restaurant, there were a few loyal regulars who'd clearly felt a connection with Legare.

There are a couple of dozen covers inside the restaurant and a couple of small tables outside in pedestrianised Shad Thames. I visited on the first day after the recent heat wave and it had been raining intermittently all day, so I decided not to risk sitting outside. The couple who arrived at the same time as me only lasted eight minutes before the heavens opened and they had to move inside! There were good distancing measures in place inside, with booths that I remember from Watch House's tenure, and a pillar separating my table from the next one. The décor is generally minimalist, with light wood and exposed brick, but colourful, London-themed artwork adorns the walls.

I took a photograph of the chalkboard menu before taking my seat, and ordered a negroni because it had been one of those days (I work for a science journal so every day has been one of those days during these COVID-19 times). It was cool, bitter and refreshing: smashing, in other words. There were four courses on the menu, in traditional antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci format.

I started with some olives, and then spent the rest of the meal gazing longingly at the magnificent focaccia that sat temptingly just in front of me on the counter. But I knew I wouldn't make it to dessert if I had the bread as well as the pasta. Wishing I had a companion to help me with the beautiful-looking burrata with sobrasada, I instead ordered the melon with prosciutto di San Daniele as my first course. It didn't last long: the melon was perfectly ripe, the ham salty and flavoursome, and both were drizzled with Croatian olive oil and topped with herbs.

Neither of the secondi particularly floated my boat, but that was OK because it was the pasta I'd come for. There were four on the menu and I hesitated between the cavatelli with pesto alla genovese and the pappardelle with fennel sausage and chard ragù. Yes, I was always going to go for the latter, though, wasn't I? And mighty fine it was too, with a spicier kick to the sausage than I was expecting, accompanying perfectly al dente pasta. I didn't have room for a full dessert, but luckily, there was a single pistachio cannolo on the menu, and I managed. There was also an affogato but I prefer not to mix my coffee and my sweet treats.

All of the food was accompanied by excellent service, with a very laid-back atmosphere. I've long had a fondness for neighbourhood restaurants, so it's always a pleasure to find a good one in my own neighbourhood.

Legare. Cardamom Building, 31G Shad Thames, London, SE1 2YR (Tube: London Bridge or Bermondsey). Website. Instagram.

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