Sequels can be dangerous; it’s always risky to try to squeeze too much out of a good thing. In London’s competitive dining scene, opening up a second location for a successful restaurant can lead to chefs being stretched too thin and overzealous restaurateurs testing out new concepts that sacrifice taste. When Will Ellner, founder of Soho pasta hotspot Bancone, announced he was opening another restaurant in Covent Garden’s Golden Square, some wondered how he planned to expand on his humble pasta offering. Enter new Culinary Director Claudio Melis. The Michelin-starred chef has injected his creativity into the Bancone Golden Square menu with creative new pasta dishes and monthly grilled specials like opening month’s crispy suckling pig belly with apple and hazelnut, pickled mustard seeds, and Primitivo; and pan-fried stone bass with samphire and sweet and sour beets. “With Claudio boosting the team, we’re in a really strong position to enjoy a successful foray into London’s restaurant heartland,” says Ellner.
We visited Bancone Golden Square just a few days after it opened. Already, the larger 4,000 square-foot space was buzzing. Downstairs there’s a basement and cocktail bar with an area set aside for private dining. The top floor has an open kitchen and the pièce de résistance is a large olive tree that guests can sit around. Despite being in the middle of the city, the vibrant and inviting décor transports us right onto a terrazza in Tuscany. It was delightful to see that with guidance from Melis, Head Chef Stefano Cilia’s menu embraced old favourites whilst presenting never-before-seen items. Drawing inspiration from the over 20 regions of Italy, the menu challenged traditional flavour profiles by throwing different ingredients into the mix and we were excited to dig in.
To start with, we went for the hand-picked white crab with Tuscan panzanella, which was fresh, light, and had a great crunch from the panzanella. For the pasta, we could not stay away from the cult favourite silk handkerchiefs with walnut butter and confit egg yolk. It was just as rich and opulent as I remembered from the original restaurant and is sure to be a mainstay on the new menu. We also tested out a new offering: the bucatini with Cornish mussels was bathed in deliciously smooth and salty seaweed butter. It was moreish, different, and dare I say, even better than the silk handkerchiefs. We rounded off our meal with a more traditional red wine-poached pear with yoghurt foam and honeycomb, but will gladly return for the pumpkin and saffron panacotta with green apple, chilli, lime gel, and almond.
Sequels can be dangerous, but Ellner and his team at Bancone have taken on the challenge head-on. Their menu does not play it safe and it’s what has kept me and many diners coming back for more. We crave for the flavour combinations that we have never tasted before and we yearn to see what the team will try next. Whilst Bancone’s original space will continue to have guests lining up for a coveted seat at the bancon (counter), I’m sure I speak for most Londoners when I say “grazie” for providing us with a second location and a new menu to fall in love with.