I’ve been recommending Papi to everyone I know since I discovered it earlier this year and the first question I am usually asked is, ‘What kind of food is it?’ Turns out, it’s incredibly difficult to say; perhaps ‘inventive/experimental small plates’ is the most accurate, but it neither does the food justice nor gives you any real idea what you can expect.
One could even argue that the line between ‘restaurant’ and ‘wine bar with food’ is dangerously narrow. My vote is for the former, but it does indicate both how central the wine offering is and how equal the partnership between co-owners chef Matthew Scott (ex-Cub) and sommelier Charlie Carr (Netil Market’s Wingnut Wines).
Scott is probably best known for his pandemic pop-up HOT 4 U, one of the first chef-led finish-at-home meal delivery services which was followed by a string of pub residencies. The dishes were famously imaginative, even challenging: devilled eggs and Monster Munch; pigeon aged in hay, offal toast and rose hip; rum punch jelly oysters. There’s still a distinctly quirky edge to the menu at Papi – fried rabbit and waffles, glitter in the Martini and Ribena in the Negroni, strawberry hot sauce on the oysters – but there is serious substance over its considerable style.
I sincerely hope that Papi achieves the success it deserves, because this is food from the heart
Scott’s flavours at Papi remain unapologetically playful and uncompromisingly huge. Offal features frequently on the menu, with recent incarnations including calves’ brains served with chicken butter sauce and girolles or, on another visit, with black pepper butter and Hokkaido toast. Tartare in some form is also a regular; current favourites are a BBQ potato bun, smoked butter and tuna belly nduja, and a beautiful rose veal tartare with smoked eel mayo and truffle. Seafood appears in every guise from a simple and delicate bream crudo to lip-smacking, XO butter clams with chicken fat and cabbage where the heat of the spicy, buttery chicken juices coats your palate like a warm duvet on a cold morning. Then there is one of their most beautifully-plated and delicious dishes: the light and summery soupa de yuzu with razor clams.
The Papi dishes may have the briefest of descriptions on the menu and look elegantly simple on the plate, but there is a huge amount of skill in the layering and balance not just of flavour but of texture. Take the BBQ potato bun: warm fluffy bread with crisp, chargrilled edges, softened with smoked butter and topped with smooth, hand-cut tuna belly, swirled through a punchy, house-made fermented chilli sauce. This was topped with finely-chopped chives for bite and freshness, a cool, salty pop of salmon roe, toasted sesame seeds and the scattered crunch of tiny grains of toasted quinoa.
They also have nailed the extended experience of eating out, from their genuinely lovely front of house staff to a light and welcoming dining room with counter seating by the kitchen for those who want to watch Matthew and fellow HOT 4 U chef Jack Coggins making magic.
Eschewing the current natural wine bandwagon, the wine list is a selection of under-represented low-intervention wines from a wide range of independent producers making wine in small quantities. As such, bottles regularly and intentionally sell out and the list is constantly changing. It’s not cheap, but it is interesting; chances are, you’ll be trying something new at every visit.
Don’t worry though because, for someone with such a clear passion, Charlie wears his expertise lightly; abandon yourself to his capable care. Relaxed and engaging, he can explain the magic of carbonic maceration in maximising fruit and intensity whilst minimising tannins without making you feel like an idiot for not knowing already, and chat about the winemakers as if they are family members – which in a way they are.
I sincerely hope that Papi achieves the success it deserves, because this is food from the heart, food that resonates and excites, innovatively modern and comfortingly nostalgic.
My money is on them becoming a foodie household name, along with the likes of Fallow, Kiln and Silo. After all, they have naturally fallen into one of the simplest and most successful models of food and wine partnership in hospitality: Matthew puts it on the plate and Charlie puts it in the glass.
1F, 373 Mentmore Terrace
by Amanda David