OST's Favourite Restaurant's
Islington's 'In-The Know' Italian Delight.
Firstly, don't let first appearances fool you. It's a well worn phrase but it's never rung more true than here. Saponara is nestled at the end of a small run of small urban shops, just before you get to the picturesque St James' Church on Prebend Street, Islington. By day, this little Deli has a smattering of customers albeit in a steady, loyal flow. The counter is full of rich produce, including grilled vegetables, pre-made 'dishes of the day', for either the lunchtime crowd or for takeaway, cheeses, pastries & meats. From here you might buy one of Saponara's delicious almond croissants and a caffe latte, before heading off to catch the number 48 into town. You could be fooled into thinking it was just that kind of place - A gentle coffee shop come specialist grocer. There is a little activity from a minimal amount of staff, but food seems to be getting prepared for a private function or some such, because surely Saponara, with its handful of studious newspaper ruffling locals, won't be eating all of this lovingly prepared fayre. It was years as a visitor to the area, that the mystery as to where all this food goes was finally solved...... Much to both my annoyance and my eternal delight. In the evening, Saponara transforms itself into a cosy, well thought out, intimate and most extraordinary of Italian restaurants. The kind you dream of. The kind that is featured in romantic films but you can never ever find and refuse to believe exist.
Run by two Italian brothers, who regularly return home to source new suppliers and ingredients, Saponara is vey real indeed. When we finally got round to booking a table for dinner, I was still very dubious about its credentials and its ability to produce. It's one thing for a passionate morning conversation with one of the owners about food, whilst blowing on an Americano, (I was very careful not to leave the O off there.), quite another to be blown away by great food. The Antipasti here is the finest I've eaten anywhere..... and I do mean anywhere. The huge creamy mozzarella centrepiece was as creamy fresh as can be, the asparagus and other grilled vegetables are cooked and seasoned to perfection. Further delights, laying on the bed of mixed leaves, were radishes, figs, olives, beautifully ripe tomatoes, mortadella, salami and prosciutto.
All the fresh pasta is made on site and is proudly exhibited hanging from the arm of a proud waiter in a small wicker basket, .... the pasta that is, not the waiter. The types of pasta, fillings and accompanying sauces are recited to you proudly and your questions are considerately answered. Both the pasta and the accompanying sauces are perfect. I have travelled the length and breadth of Italy, I cook and prepare Italian food several days a week for over 30 years and I have eaten more than my share of this, my most favourite of cuisines, so often that I lam beginning to look like an Arancini ..... Although when I'm eating spectacularly good Indian food, I often find myself at odds with myself about which is in fact number one and which, given the choice, I must stick with on my desert island. If you add to this, the enormous and beautifully crafted Napoli style pizzas, the wonderfully light Tiramisu and the exquisitely informal yet professional and cordial service, you know that this is something truly special.
You want to talk about Saponara and your food to you co-diners. You want to make sure that they have enjoyed it as much as you have. Not to know if your own meal was a one off, but to feed off each other's views on this manna from heaven. The lighting is sufficiently low lit and the music as it should be.... Dean Martin, Luciano Pavarotti et al..... and he would've done too. The tables are closely set and sit underneath racks of olive oil, other Italian specialities and sweets, but probably most importantly ... the wine. There is a small wine list covering the basics but anything you find on the shelves that takes your fancy. You purchase it as if in a bottle shop or bodega with just a small corkage fee added which I love. The whole thing works so perfectly that you'll never want it to change. How it isn't booked out every night is yet another mystery? Having said that, it probably is. I'm about to find out because I'm due for my biannual trip to London in May 2017 and it's here that I wish to return to most. I've eaten at Claridges, at Heston's Dinner, and at far too many other highly lauded London restaurants to mention but Saponara will do me just fine. If only I could find somewhere so authentically Italian in Italy. It might catch on.
Saponara, we applaud you. Salute!