Restaurant review: Gordon Ramsay's Union Street Café is a terrific Italian but what's the Beckham connection?

 

Union Street Café is not a café, and isn't strictly in Union Street (see address below) but it's certainly the most talked-about new restaurant of the autumn. This, you'll doubtless know, is because it was rumoured that its owner, Gordon Ramsay, the former footballer who once had a trial with Rangers, was going into partnership with David Beckham, the well-known foodie.

Why this macho convergence would have made for an ideal restaurant is hard to fathom (have we a picture in our heads of Victoria in a lace pinny, sulkily announcing the daily specials? No? Just me, then) but it doesn't matter now because Beckham chose not to invest any dosh. So the USC is just a new Gordon Ramsay joint, in a funny part of town.

Great Suffolk Street isn't hopelessly grotty, just a bit down-at-heel. It, and Union Street which it bisects, are in the heart of Southwark, the raffish heart of Olde South London that's now so trendy, bounded by Tate Modern, Borough Market, Guy's Hospital and the London Dungeon. I think it appealed to Gordon because it's London's version of Brooklyn – edgy, but without the West End's gleam and swagger. And there's a famous Union Street in Brooklyn…

The restaurant's name is announced in a scribble on the wall, the menu is hand-scrawled daily, and there's a lot of studied informality in the décor. I've seen so much industrial/warehouse chic in new restaurants lately, it's begun to look like the only décor choice available in LondonEatingLand: untreated concrete pillars, fat ventilation shafts, wire-basket lighting, no tablecloths. The only individual touch here, a vase of flowers on a stone pedestal, is probably ironic.

The food, though announced as 'Mediterranean', is very Italian, taking in influences from north and south: the head chef, Davide Degiovanni, is from Cuneo, home of the luxurious Cuneesi al Rhum chocolate, but also birthplace of Michele Ferrero, maker of you-know-what. Anyway, Sgr Degiovanni has cut his teeth at L'Escargot and Locanda Locatelli, as well as Mayfair hotels, and brings an expert hand to dishes from Piedmont to Puglia.

From the antipasti, calamari fritti offered a handsome selection of battered squid, arrayed in a teetering pile on a single hefty slice of beef tomato. The shellfish was tasty and the batter (made with polenta flour) just right. Sardinian artichokes were cooked to a perfect al dente texture and whacked with flavour by Ligurian olives surmounted by shaved pecorino: dead simple but delicious.

We shared a pasta-course plate of linguine vongole that featured the most buttery pasta I've ever eaten. I could hear my arteries hardening as I devoured the shelled clams and mussels, and discovered unexpected slices of tiny peperoncini chillies lurking in its cholesterolic depths. I asked our extremely pleasant and helpful waiter, Carlo, where the ingredients came from. He assured me the management brought fish and shellfish fresh from Italy every day. When I raised an eyebrow, he checked with the kitchen and reported back, "I was wrong. The clams are from Cornwall, the mussels from Wales".

Angie's main course of scorfano (meaning scorpion fish, though it's also Italian for 'ugly' – and it really is one ugly mother, with poisonous spikes on its dorsal fin) arrived looking like a couple of enormous chips. The fish had been coated in a light, herby breadcrumb carapace, crispy and toothsome, while the assembly of rainbow chard, radicchio, tomato and capers was a Fauvist palette of brilliant colours which it was a shame (but a necessity) to eat.

My saltimbocca was astonishing. This classic Italian dish involves a very flat slice of veal covered with sage leaves and prosciutto ham, fried and served with pan juices – usually accompanied by sauté potatoes and vegetables. Here, the veal is immense, headily perfumed with sage – and accompanied only by a mountain of lightly fried zucchini strips. The chef deserves a medal for keeping this dish simple, dramatic and irresistible.

A fine panna cotta (made without gelatin, super-soft and creamy) with grappa-infused figs ended a meal notable for style and simplicity, and for the charm of the waiters (and the intelligent by-the-glass suggestions from Angelica the Polish sommelier).

I'm not sure Gordon Ramsay has pulled off the Brooklyn-comes-to-London effect he may have wanted, but he's certainly established a terrific new Italian in drab SE1. And now I can't help wondering – was that the reason for the Beckham connection? Brooklyn?

Food ****
Ambience ***
Service ****

Union Street Café, 47-51 Great Suffolk Street, London SE1 (020-7592 7977). About £120 for two, with wine

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices