Legare in Bermondsey: “A charming little pocket of Mediterranean magic”
Legare is quite easy to miss – or at least that’s what I tell myself after we’ve scaled the length of Shad Thames, passing the many converted industrial warehouses and cast-iron gantries that starkly frame this historical street. Tucked away behind Tower Bridge in the Cardamom building (named after the spices it once held), this Italian restaurant announces itself in a whisper with gold lettering that becomes virtually invisible from the wrong angle. It’s worth finding though. The interiors of this 35-cover venue, co-founded by Jay Patel and Matt Beardmore, formerly of Barrafina and Trullo respectively, are immediately at odds with the industrial surroundings. It’s a warm space despite the minimalistic design: the smiling staff, from the service to the chefs, add ample embellishment.
The menu starts with spuntini (or snacks), and after an impassioned introduction our table is laden with olives and a rosemary-studded focaccia. It’s the kind of welcome I craved more than a hug during the height of the pandemic, the bread so light and perfectly textured that’s it’s quite hard to save for the starters.
For the antipasti, we begin by tucking into the Stracciatella with Grilled Nectavigne, Mixed Fine Beans and Thyme. The cheese itself (essentially a burrata without the mozzarella casing) is rich, well matched by the sweet yet tart nectavigne. Though this fruit, a special cross between a nectarine and vineyard peaches with striking red flesh, sounds like a novelty, it earns its place on the plate.
The most surprising dish is the Grilled Squid with ‘Nduja. This is cooked to the perfect chewy-but-not-too-chewy texture, but it’s the spicy, fat-fuelled and flavoursome pork sauce that makes it a showstopper worthy of another focaccia sponge.
Then it’s time for what we’ve been waiting for: the primi dishes. The trio is so tempting it’s hard to choose two, but in the end we opt for the Spaghetti alla Chitarra with Palourde Clams, Chilli and Garlic, followed by the Cavatelli alla Norcina. The first, a speciality, uses a square pasta which adds satisfying texture to every mouthful, bringing out the subtle heat of the dish without smothering the shellfish. The second course comes blanketed in pecorino romano and has a wonderful peppery white wine base, a fitting accompaniment to one of Italy’s finest sausages.
Dessert presents an easier choice, for a homemade cannoli is a must-try in all circumstances. This version is outstanding, the heavenly ricotta filling topped with pistachios and encased in perfectly fried pastry. It justifies the restaurant’s Bib Gourmand in one mouthful. Crucially, this is not too sweet and leaves rooms for a portion of Chocolate Cremoso, Hazelnut Brittle. Rich, smooth ganache and salty nuts make a predictably good combo, but it’s the little twists that bring a smile to the face – in this case a pool of golden olive oil.
Legare is easy to miss in two senses: both literally due to its unremarkable exterior, and emotionally thanks a remarkable atmosphere that will leave you longing to return. If you like well-executed Italian food for an affordable price within an intimate setting, bypass your usual Tower Bridge haunts and seek out this charming little pocket of Mediterranean magic.
Photos: Azhul Mohamed
To book a table at Legare, Cardamom Building 31G Shad Thames SE1 2YR, call or visit their website here.