IT IS NOT an exaggeration to say that the push to transform Battersea Power Station and its surrounding A roads into a luxury landmark has been expensive. Exit the almost manically clean tube station and you’ll be confronted with the sure signs of modern gentrification in progress: swells of luxury flats emerge, writhing, from the ground upwards like fungal growths, with wine bars and flower markets and boutiques dutifully cropping up in their wake.
It is not yet altogether convincing – the walk from the station down the A3205 is unprepossessing, passing under railway bridges and past scaffolding-eaten buildings.
And then you turn the corner under the railway arches and find a small, unobtrusive black door with a cheerful note requesting you twist the handle and let yourself in. This is the Narnian entrance to a very different world – the intimate and friendly space of Archway Battersea. Far from just another wine bar/restaurant seeking to capitalise on the new local clientele in those luxury flats up the street, Archway Battersea is doing very good things with very good produce, in a small, warmly-lit room with friendly, enthusiastic staff and an intriguing wine list.
The menu, with a hyper-sensitive finger-on-the-pulse of seasonal and local ingredients, is the work of head chef Alex Owens, formerly of the River Cafe. Owens’ roots are clear here – the menu leans firmly towards Italy, and the emphasis is still very much on a small menu and relaxed, unfussy cooking. Like the River Cafe, Archway Battersea’s only desire is to leave you well-fed and well-taken care of.
In an interview with Luxury London, Owens says that her aim isn’t to reinvent the wheel: “I just want it to be good food. It’s not fancy or fussy, just very tasty.” It’s a sentiment which rings clear and true throughout the dining experience, one extremely welcome when mired in the strange built-up newness of this area. In this wood-panelled dining room, where the occasional muffled train rumbles pleasantly overhead, it’s very quickly clear that Owens’ vision has been realised.
It’s not primarily a pasta restaurant – there are some great things happening in the mains section involving pig cheeks, grilled lamb neck, and piedmontese peppers – but it’s hard not to resist going straight to the middle of the menu. Post-Padella, there are plenty of choices for good (and bad) fresh pasta in London, but Owens has wisely chosen to keep things simple, offering three pastas (meat, fish, and vegetarian) either as small or large plates.
On the night I visited, the fresh cavatelli with venison ragu came highly (and rightfully) recommended. Taking on the best qualities of gnocchi without the addition of potato, the cavatelli are plump and satisfyingly chewy, carrying off their deep, rich sauce with insouciant grace. Together with the ragu, cooked all the way down to caramelised depths, it was a warm and earthy balm to the current cold and un-springlike temperatures assailing London.
On the other side of the spectrum, fresh orecchiette with mussels and winter tomato is a dreamy Italian summer of a dish. One of the great joys of going out to dinner with someone is the moment you look across the table from each other as you both try a perfect forkful from the same plate.
Over the course of the evening, there were many such moments, but it was the simplicity of the orecchiette which remained particularly memorable – the sweetness of the mussels brought out to play with the sprightly slow-cooked tomatoes and the pungent grown-up kick from the oregano, all of it enveloping those small curved shells of fresh, pillowy pasta. With food like this, whatever Owens does next on that menu will be worth coming back for again and again.
The starters, of which the list is slightly larger than the mains, are not aiming to surprise or innovate particularly far from most good Italian offerings. The burrata with zucchini scapece involves courgettes cut very small and fried until very golden with mint and fresh chilli, then scattered generously across the rather unformed burrata. We ate it alongside the flatbread with sliced asparagus and anchovy butter (this last ingredient the one occasion in which I felt a little short-changed – the grassiness of the asparagus being well-suited to a little more of that promised salt and dairy emulsion).
But these are small gripes and, like the rest of the menu, the enthusiasm for good ingredients is clear – knowing what this kitchen can do with seafood, the wood roast Atlantic prawns with nduja butter hints of further rhapsodic delights on par with the orecchiette.
The wine list immediately wins me over with the choice of house white, the trendy but always welcome Chin Chin vinho verde. Bottles start at £27 for the house wines and move into three digits when wandering into Burgundy territory, with by-the-glass offerings starting at just over £7. It’s a nice, nerdy list with plenty to delve into, including two skin-contact (also known as orange) wines.
The large pasta plates are generous enough that dessert feels like rather an undertaking, but one glance at the menu – and a rapturous description of the beignets from our waitress – made up our minds. Unsurprisingly, considering Owens’ roots in the home of the Chocolate Nemesis cake, there’s a decadent and deeply satisfying take on a cremeux with praline and salt, but it’s those beignets – served compellingly tonight with bright pink rhubarb and honeyed mascarpone – which close the meal with one last enthusiastic lock of eyes across the table.
Perhaps the best thing you can say about a restaurant is that it leaves you perfectly happy. Leaving Archway Battersea and returning to the real world, one feels bolstered even walking back up the A road, still in a haze of Owens’ creation.
by Ismene Ormonde
Archway Battersea, 65 Queen’s Circus, Nine Elms, London SW8 4NE
Open Wednesday – Saturday 18:00-00:00