Noci, Islington Green, food review: ‘Bubbling atmosphere but a lack of Italian flair’

Wild mushroom silk handkerchiefs, porcini and confit egg yolk. Photograph: Lateef Photography

Pasta. Divine companion of the modern city gal or an overrated carbohydrate out to make you fat, bored and disillusioned at the dinner table?

Chef Louis Korovilas’s new venture, Noci, “experimentally” puts pasta centre stage, so it’s shame that it turns out not to be incredibly talkative.

Replacing Côte Brasserie on the fringes of Islington Green, the location is prime real estate. On paper, it fills a gap in the market for a reasonably-priced pasta place.

As soon as you step inside Noci, which is Italian for walnut, a wall of sound smacks you in the head. The clientele are young, professional, and chatty. It’s more after-work drinks than first date, unless you like raising your voice over a plate of gnocchi that is. Lively indeed!

The space feels like one of the new-fangled food courts that have graced (or cursed, depending on your viewpoint) the capital – see Seven Dials and Victoria. Leather sofas line one side of the room, with stools by the windows and, perplexingly, dotted around the edge of the space. Would I want to sit with my face smushed up against a wall?

Louis Korovilas finishing off a focaccia. Photograph: Lateef Photography

The colours are picked from last year’s fashionable hues. That bloody grey that’s been haunting every cushion and throw pillow I picked up in 2021, blended with mousey brown and racing green. Stark lighting and a pale Scandinavian wood ceiling save the place from gloom. It’s stylish, if a little soulless.

House peach spritzes arrive and, while invigorating, taste worryingly like boozy squash.

A slightly hard focaccia follows, draped nicely but rather sparsely in roasted onions and a lonely, sweet datterini tomato. Arancini, liberally toasted with nduja, saffron (not to everyone’s taste), and a fluffy pecorino and parmesan pool, is more of a hit. The seared yellowfin tuna is a must-try for fish devotees. It is bathed in lemon, with the greens joined by clinging bodies of sun-dried tomato paste. What a dish.

The pace of service is efficient but verges on frantic, and although the waiters are intuitive, the feeling we get is that they don’t want you sticking around for too long.

The main courses thunder towards us, carried aloft on impossibly large (and I would argue impractical) serving trays like UFOs narrowly avoiding punters.

Fish aficionados like myself can dive for seared scallop and pancetta pappardelle. It’s a classic, though the three mollusc medallions do look a bit friendless on the pile of freshly made pasta. The cavolo nero-drenched ribbons of pappardelle are flavourful when paired with a slice of the tiny bivalves, but sadly rather tart without. The recommended £24 bottle of white wine doesn’t offset the seafood burst. Surely cutting up the sentinels of seafood into smaller chunks would do a better job of dispersing the flavour? Admittedly, it wouldn’t look as pleasing.

Neapolitan Genovese ragu. Photograph: Lateef Photography

Soft lamb shoulder cloaked in open ravioli has no such issues. There is a buttery sauce of biblical proportions. Chive oil glistens at the bottom of the bowl, the herb separating from the golden blobs of animal fat that beg to be mopped up by bread, which is sadly missing from the table. Is there anything more heartbreaking than an unmopped sauce?

Vegetarians might manage an evening here but in classic Italian fashion, veganism is rather an afterthought.

Price-wise, most of the mains are just developing facial hair (in their teens), with a few cheaper options. The most expensive starters are a pound or two shy of a tenner, so Noci is a decent option for budget-conscious diners.

Having run out of mango, then bayleaf, a whipped chocolate gelato is apologetically offered for dessert. With nodules of candied kumquats and caramelised orange slices, this is divine ice cream. Sadly my chocolate pudding was simply a moose with a burnt layer on top. Satisfying to crack into but pretty disappointing taste-wise. Even the hazelnut kick of gianduja can’t save the dish from being immediately forgettable.

For a place that only opened on 11 March, the buzz surrounding Noci is impressive and shows they know the area well. Well-priced Italian with an air of manufactured Roman bustle is a still a hot ticket in the capital. Noci is very much that – the right restaurant at the right time in the right place.

Was it astounding? No. But was I dejected, driven mad, and disappointed? Also no.

Despite the bubbling atmosphere and appropriate aesthetic, something is lacking. A dash of Italian individuality wouldn’t go amiss to save Noci from getting lost in the sea of competing restaurants.