Passo London, a one week pop-up and the impeccable pizza of Nancy Silverton…

Nancy Silverton. Californian, chef, baker, restaurateur, author and, oh yeah, casual pizza legend.

I have a teeny, tiny, giant, supersized girl crush on this funky, talented, smart, warm woman which began with her ‘Chef’s Table’ episode on Netflix and was firmly assured after lunch last Friday at her one-week pop-up in Passo, one of London’s loveliest Italian restaurants just off the Old St roundabout.

Beautifully shaded in a palette of nudes that Bobbi Brown herself would be proud to out her name to, this is a vast dining room but one that feels delightfully intimate thanks to the cosy bar, the varied table sizes, the honeyed caramel décor accents and the warm daylight that streams in through floor to ceiling windows at the back. Staff are friendly & welcoming, happy to chat and eager to ensure your time there is a good one plus there’s a buzz through the space that was apparent as both a gentle murmuring at the start of service and then a fully obvious delivery of all-out good times once every table was full.

Silverton, dough master & all round exceptional culinary talent, was visible during our lunch on the last day of a residency that saw 900+ covers make their way through the restaurant in a week and her touch was apparent in every dish that emerged from the open plan kitchen.

*Sidenote, whilst waiting for my friend to arrive, I may or may not have texted that I could ‘see Nancy on the pass’, thereby forever cementing my place as a total geek on the food landscape in which I live…judge me not dear reader, you too dwell there or you wouldn’t be reading this.

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The very best things I ate…January 2018

January.

It’s cold and dark. You’re poor and chubby. Everything that only days before had seemed warm & inviting in the cosy twinkle of fairy lights now seems a world away and in the last few hours of holiday, you find yourself stuck between two warring sides of your brain, one which desperately wants to start the new year virtuously and is throwing everything green and leafy into the Nutribullet, itself in possession of a layer of dust so thick across the top that you have to resist the urge to write ‘wash me’ on it and the other that demands you finish everything good bad good in the house – Bailey’s, brandy butter, blue cheese – in one final gluttonous sitting because really, until that alarm pierces your slumber at 6.20am the following morning, you. are. still. on. holiday.

Ya get me?

However, new year, new page, new start and there are many things to be thankful for at the dawn of another twelve months through this journey we call life.

One of the best things about January for me is the opportunity to leaf through new cookbooks, to mark so many pages with post-it notes that rifling through them creates a gentle rainbow breeze on your fingertips and to plan weekends around what dishes you’ll explore and savour. I don’t make new years’ resolutions as such – too often they strike me as being things that you either know you probably should be doing anyway (put down the cigarette, the whisky and/or the bag full of sale bargains please) or that will cause you to leap into some new activity with relentless enthusiasm until midway through the month when you make it home at the end of a long day, trip over the roller blades/ballet shoes/how-to-learn-Japanese book, fly into a rage, throw the offending items across the hallway and then drown your wilting anger in a wineglass big enough to keep koi in.

That said, my non-new-year-resolution for 2018 was to be more patient in the kitchen because try as I might not to be this way, I am bossy, restless & demanding in that particular corner of the house. I like to be in control to the point where I’d hazard a guess I’m not always much fun to be around unless there’s an open bottle of Pinot Noir on hand to soothe all concerned so this year I’m trying to share my love of food & cooking rather than keeping it all to myself before presenting something on a plate that is beautiful but rather meaningless. In less than four months time, I become a different tick box on every form and really, if I’m going to undertake that journey, the biggest of my life and the one I’ve waited for above all others without fear or worry, wouldn’t it be nice to turn what is often a solo obsession with perfection into a joint venture that’s fun with the soon-to-be mister to my missus?

And so, something a little different for the blog this year – a monthly dip into the greatest things that I’ve eaten. No criteria other than full and sincere love for whatever was on the plate in front of me…though let’s be real here, we all know it probably didn’t stay there for long.

1.Blue Corn Tortillas with Baked Avocado, Pickled Chillies & Charred Salsa by Anna Jones from The Modern Cook’s Year

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J & I share a love for many things, movies and California being just of them. Before our paths crossed in London, we unknowingly spent simultaneous but separate time in the same drama school and the same neighbourhoods of Los Angeles. Going back there together for the first time on our achingly wonderful 2014 West Coast road trip gave us the chance to share some of our favourite things in the City of Angels, one of which is soft corn tortillas eaten at shadowy dive bars or with our toes in the sand dunes or in the Chateau Marmont shadowed Pinches Tacos, always with the stain of lime on our fingers and the fizz of Corona on our tongues.

Given that Santa was kind enough to gift me with a beautiful cast iron tortilla press and a gorgeous copy of ‘The Modern Cook’s Year’ by Anna Jones for Christmas, it only seemed right that the first dinner of 2018 – something that for some reason means a lot to me…it seems to send a beacon up for how the ensuing months might pan out – should be homemade blue corn tortillas. Simple to make and a dream when stuffed with cornmeal-Parmesan-ancho baked avocado wedges and served with the sweetest pickled chillies and a smoky tomato & spring onion salsa, these team-effort-tortillas were eaten quickly but with every mouthful savoured as we were transported back to our spiritual home.

 

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A pizza of convenience at Joe Public…

Sometimes you hear about a place through friends and you trust their judgement so you visit, enjoy and congratulate yourself on having such awesome pals with such great taste and sometimes you walk past it in the street and literally have to stop yourself from doubling back and ducking in for lunch because err, it’s 8am and ‘I’m sorry I’m late for work but I stopped and ate an entire 20” pizza on the way over’ is probably not the best thing to say to your boss on Monday morning. Fine on a Thursday FYI.

Joe Public falls squarely into the latter camp. I’m not a Clapham native so finding myself there for work over the past fortnight has given me plenty of time to peruse the neighbourhood for sweet spots to add to my ever expanding list of London must-eats.

Word to all future restaurant owners of the capital here: stepping out of the tube to find I have to exert only as much energy as it takes to swivel to the left before I can be sat at a picnic bench ordering a slice & a beer is a guaranteed way to make me like you. Yeah, I’m that shallow and you know deep down, you are too.

Making admirable work of a former public convenience with wooden stools, white subway tiles, cutlery in recycled tinned tomato cans and old skool diner napkin dispensers make this is as close to the sort of place you could imagine sharing a pizza stateside with Ross, Joey & Chandler (‘And then I kissed her’, ‘Tongue?’, ‘Yeah’, ‘Cool’) as I think you’ll get in London.

Serving California style pizzas – lots of toppings on sourdough bases – that can be bought by the slice or as a BFG snack sized 20” version, the menu boasts gluten free options for most bases and an array of ingredients to sit atop them from sausage & bacon to purple potato & artichoke, although given its West Coast inspiration, I was surprised not to see avocado on anything.

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I’m a total groupie even for anything vaguely Middle Eastern when it comes to eating out so a Braised Lamb, Cumin Aubergine, Goats Cheese & Sweet Potato Base convinced me to Deliveroo my first taste of Joe’s rather than sit in as this was a flavour variant not available in house.

The base was full of sweet potato flavour which I loved and it was hot & crispy without being overly stodgy so full points for a super speedy delivery. Aubergine chunks were plentiful and nicely spiced but sadly the generous hand that dealt out those bad boys didn’t appear to want to do the same for the lamb which was a tad sparse.

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Did it rock my pizza world? Not really and hand on heart, I’m not wholly convinced that this won’t end up being a place that runs on ‘novelty factor’ rather than the best pizzas this side of Naples however, if you find yourself stumbling out of a nearby pub on Saturday night, hungry for something to soak up those BOGOF Aperol Spritzes that taste so good in the sunshine, then I’m pretty sure the neon sign and cheap & cheerful value of Joe’s will be most welcome.