We first visited the Sager + Wilde duo’s latest venture, FARE, for the launch of their astounding new spirit brand El Destilado. Six-months on, we return to see if their all-day dining restaurant can also capture our hearts.
Located in a recently renovated mid-century warehouse in London’s Clerkenwell, FARE treads that barely decipherable line between stripped-back industrial minimalism and East London cool. Floor-to-ceiling windows upstairs and a large glass skylight in the middle of the downstairs space ensure that the open-plan rooms are flooded with natural light in the daytime, with macramé plant hangers and huge pots of verdant foliage preventing them from feeling cold.
As the pedigree of Founders Michael Sager and Marcis Dzelzainis might suggest, drinks are very much at forefront of this all-day dining spot with even the café by the door bordered with shelves of wine bottles. An impressively large, horseshoe bar festooned with wine taps and lit by low-hanging NY loft-style Holophane pendants takes centre stage in the ground floor area, whilst downstairs, a separate bar claims one end of the space.
We take our seats by the window and glance at the small and focused menu of Italian fare, before ogling the cocktail list. Our minds are quickly made up over the very reasonably priced drinks when we spy the Fig Leaf Ti Punch (El Destilado Cana Rum, Fig Leaf, Verjus; £7.50) and (somewhat necessary due to a hard night out) a FARE Bloody Mary (Garlic Vodka, Tomato, Basil Oil, Lemon, Spices; £9). The food choices take slightly longer but we finally make our choices, aided by our server, Giuseppe.
Decisions made, we sit back and soak up our surroundings. The vibe is relaxed and grown-up, with diners of all ages settling into their meals with unhurried enjoyment. Our cocktails arrive promptly and – as expected from Drinks’ Maker, Marcis Dzelzainis – are delicious. The sing-song sweet complexity of El Destilado (essentially a rhum agricole) in the clear Ti Punch is accentuated by the syrupy fig leaf flavour, that in turn plays with the vegetal notes of the cane juice spirit to culminate in a rounded drink that ends in a gentle hint of smoke. The Bloody Mary is full of olive brine, garlicky freshness and spice, yet somehow managed to remain light and fresh.
Drinks quickly seen-off, our starters of Beef Tartare (£13) and Raw Artichoke Salad (£9.50) arrive, together with Antipasti of Coppa (£5) and plump, bright green Nocellara Olives (£4). Decently sized and beautifully presented, the tartare is topped with generous shavings of black truffle and pipettes of creamy horseradish mayo. Decadent, moreish and delicately flavoured, the meat shines though and is unencumbered by any profound earthiness from the summer truffle.
The salad is similarly tasty: peppery rocket, fresh creamy and tart avocado and lime purée, raw artichoke and thin veg crisp come together with the occasional kick of sun-dried tomato to make a small salad feel indulgent. The quality of the simply offered coppa and olives both also speak volumes of the ingredients at FARE.
Duck Papardelle (£15) and Njuda Pizza (£15) are next, accompanied by two glasses of wine – one from the draught taps, another from Michael Sager’s extensive 250-strong wine list. Whilst pleasant, the pasta sadly doesn’t quite live up the hype of the starter small plates. Although the duck is delicate in taste and melt-in-the-mouth in texture, its sauce is very watery and proves unable to hold its own with the amount of eggy pasta it is paired with. Similarly as with the tartare, the truffle is seemingly just for show, adding very little to the dish other than aesthetics. Happily, the pizza is better with a lovely, airy sourdough base and a fun play between warm, lightly spicy nduja and cold, stringy and delicious stracciatella.
However, whilst the mains may lack a certain excellence, the wines are on point! The on-tap biodynamic, Languedoc Merlot (£9) from young winemaker, Olivier Cohen, is an approachable and fruit-forward beauty with a juicy palate full of cherry, dark plum, blackberries, blackcurrants, strawberry flower, vanilla and a hint of spice. Cantina Giardino Aglianico ‘Le Fole’ 2014 (£12) from Campania, Italy, is more grown-up and textural, with refined tannic structure layered with dark berries, plum, cherry, rosemary and black pepper.
We cosy up to our wines and are gently persuaded into dessert, opting for an easy pleaser of Tiramisu (£6.50) and Hackney Gelato Pistachio Ice Cream, that comes served with a nostalgic wafer and chocolate stick, that makes us think of an old school Italian family restaurant.
Already won over by this unexpected and heart-warmingly familiar end to our meal, we are delighted when bartender Kevin pops up with an after dinner treat of two bottlings of El Destilado – Michael and Marcis’ spirit brand and one of our favourite new discoveries (see full article about El Destilado here).
Pechuga De Mole Poblano is a wonderfully bizarre agave spirit made using cooked chicken and mole sauce. The result is a smooth and unmatchable spirit with a rich, sweet-savoury palate that will leave your mind blown. Aguardiente De Cana is another delight, this time made using sugar cane juice, that is sweet and vegetal with earthy depths and a soothing mouthfeel.
We leave FARE very much on an upbeat. Whilst the pasta dish was a tad disappointing, there was nothing else that we could fault from décor and service to food and drinks. Given Michael and Marcis’ backgrounds, it is no wonder that the drinks demanded our appreciation and attention, however their canteen also offers a wonderful setting for those looking for some tasty small plates to enjoy with their glass of wine.
FARE, 11 Old St, London EC1V 9HL