‘Little Italy in the middle of large London’. Passo restaurant. Photograph: courtesy Passo

The players: a beloved old school friend and myself. The setting: the bustling heart of Shoreditch. The destination: a trendy little Italian spot. Add copious cocktails and a warm(ish) summer night and the stage is set for quite the evening. But is disappointment a-lurking?

Ushered through the dark, woody, almost Spartan interior of this spacious restaurant, we opt to soak up the last rays of the sun on the terrace. Surrounded by the looming towers of Old Street the experience is modern east London at its most impressive, although a little at odds with the rustic vibe of the restaurant. Little Italy in the middle of large London.

Our fellow diners are young, up-to-date, and in the case of the hen-do behind us, vocally raucous. Putting the guttural screaming aside, my rather plain margarita (with crystals of sea salt the size of insects around the rim) and my friend’s Hemingway daiquiri disappear quickly. The grapefruit juice in the novelist’s favourite cocktail is a fresh kick – almost a sensory call to arms, some might say.

‘Comforting balls of joy’: Pea and mint arancini. Photograph: courtesy Passo

Small, spotted blue plates land on the white marble table, and so it begins. Pea and mint arancini on a bed of olive paste and lemon mascarpone are the comforting balls of joy (easy) that everyone craves. 

A globe of soggy and sweating truffled Mortadella is flavourful but with shards of pane carasau (Sardinian toasted bread) the dish is light if a little salty and dehydrating (paradoxically considering the sodden cheese).

So far, so-so. As the wind picks up and the feeling of 21 whole degrees begins to wane, the evening dips in culinary success. First, foremost and frustratingly we have the clam linguine, with garlic, chili, and parsley. Clam, like most seafood, has a delicate, shy flavour, and must be protected and enhanced at all costs. The elusive flavour is obliterated and over-seasoned, and the effect is a lemony and somehow spicy disappointment.

A selection of Passo’s fare. Photograph: courtesy Passo

Sitting across is the Panzella salad, sadly fairing no better. Billed as a main and not a side salad, this dish, though beautiful, is far too simple to sustain. It arrives in a warm bowl, but the salad is cold – not a great start. A rainbow section of tomatoes dazzle but with just them and some (very tasty) bread crumbs, a bigger selection of vegetables wouldn’t go amiss. Chuck us a cucumber or two? No?

Paired nicely with a Bottega Vinai Sauvignon Blanc, we are left warmed by the tropical notes of the wine but rather deflated by the mains. 

Nevertheless, we press on to dessert, which sadly was a rather lonely affair. I do hope you like tiramisu! The singular option is a heavy, cheesy mound of sponge, which brings nothing special to the classic dish. Considering the ‘vegan options available on request’, we wondered how a vegan tiramisu would taste. As the location is in trendy veganville, a trick is missed in not having at least one easy-to-pick option for our plant-based pals.

The dishes and cocktails are solidly middle-of-the-road price-wise, so maybe that explains the lack of invention? That’s not to say price and flavour always correlate.

What saved the evening from a terminal case of the “Meh’s” is our waitress Ilaria. Funny, engaging, and chatty, she twice recommends cocktails off-menu – a refreshing Mela Fashion (an apple-y twist on a whisky sour), and the Amore Estrivo, the revivifying cocktail queen of the evening. After being charmed into a cheeky limoncello to finish, our dissatisfaction over the sad salad and sadder pasta (almost) melts away.

As the sun dies its nightly death, space heaters cast a red demonic glow across the terrace. The hen party has left the place in disarray, and the evening returns to some semblance of normality. 

For an evening of exceptional service but less-than-exceptional food in a Brutalist setting, Passo is your best option, and it’s within five minutes’ walk of the tube station. Just pray you get Ilaria!

passorestaurant.com

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