11 Apr 2014


CHEEK by jowl to a very active Domino’s and well fitted out Nando’s, Greg Wallace’s brunch-focused Putney bistro, Wallace & Co, motto of which was “great right now” has given way to an Italian from people of pedigree. BIBO, defined as “simply the Latin, Bibo (I drink) - Bibo ergo Sum if you will,” by consultant-sommelier, Zeren Wilson, is brought to you by restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas, mind behind local stars, Sam’s Brasserie and Kitchen W8, and chef Chris Beverley, “one of Theo Randall's top boys.” 

Designer, Ben Chapman (known for Soho’s hatchet-laden meat canteen, Flatiron) updated the somewhat awkward space, removing static clocks and re-defining ground floor bar with lightbox wine racks, attractively patterned tiles and iron chandeliers. The latter are arguably better suited to a wistful S&M dungeon rather than a happy local. Located above the kitchen beyond industrial mesh balcony, louvered shutters allow dregs of light to illuminate sinister, but worthwhile art in the main dining area. It transpires (I am told) that these dark, deeply-etched portraits come from the hand of Mascarenhas’s partner. Throughout, incongruous luggage racks sprout, acting as docking stations for waiters’ big trays.

Renaissance man, Wilson, previously at The Winery, Armit and sommelier for Zucca before an arm injured in a phone mugging saw him flourish as a writer on restaurants, here curates a 60-bin list. He hovers his metaphorical magnifying glass on Italy, with the only non-Italian picks care of Mascarenhas who requested the section “Italians Abroad” (Italian varieties transplanted outside Italy’s borders). These include a Vermentino from McLaren Vale (Mitolo) and Zinfandel from trustworthy Sonoma-producer, Seghesio.

Just weeks in to a six-month contract, Wilson appraises his role: “Despite saying restaurants are too much bloody hard work, I’m enjoying this more than I thought.” Wines, drawn from suppliers: Aubert Mascoli, 45:10 (for Franciacorta), Passione da Vino, Tutto, Dago, Liberty, Winemaker’s Club (for Vespaiolo) and Astrum range from £17.50 for a bottle of Sicilian Nero d’Avola/Nerello Mascalese (Borgo Selene) to £170 Sassicaia (2003). Wilson mentions to his surprise that his document was deemed “sexy” by the sommelier of the two Michelin-starred Greenhouse, who coincidentally is the partner of BIBO’s manager, Amy Boden (previously assistant manager at Pollen Street Social).

Dinner begins not with Champagne, which isn’t on Wilson’s list, but modest sparkler, Lambrusco (Quarticello 2012, Roberto Maestri, £5.70/125ml). Although the aroma is disconcerting at first – imagine reasonably fresh coagulating goats curd – the dark ruby pour provides unflinching natural acidity to pierce through the perhaps inconsiderately high heat of n’duja crocchette (£4). “There’s more n’duja than when we started,” says Wilson of the soft Calabrian salami filling, adding: “I’m proud of that.” The wine also works with musty cured leafs of carne salata beef (£7) which the waiter kindly explains - using his body as prop - originates from the animal’s hindquarters.

Wilson says he was inspired to list Lambrusco after he saw it at the Michelin-starred Gramercy Tavern, New York, where it is offered at $10 a glass. “I thought, that’s not bad idea to follow!” As I drain the last drops, Wilson informs me that 21st June will be “World Lambrusco Day”, which BIBO will duly mark. (lambruscoday.org)

With starters of dense pappardelle with torn rabbit and Prosecco ragù (£9) and alas, sadly overly salty, instant noodle-like in appearance, tagliarini nero with good octopus, garlic and a little chilli (£9), Zeren selects stony Friulano (Delfino Marco Sara Friulano 2012). Although an intriguing and useful wine which does its best to sluce through the latter’s salinity, it strikes me as being overly-enthusiastically priced at £10.50/175ml.

Next, a shared main of beef shin, perhaps braised for days, has lost its bounce and feels a little Spam-like in flavour. It comes with, from a health perspective, an inadvisably large amount of slightly undercooked bone marrow on bruschetta, and thoroughly wilted spinach (£19.50). Fortunately, Wilson’s vital and apparently wildly popular Barbera d’Asti (Le Formiche 2012, £7/175ml) is as he describes: “great with a wodge of protein.”

Finally, bombolini (little doughnuts) with large blob of Amalfi lemon curd (£6.50) is perhaps too substantial a choice for pudding, being the third deep-fried item to have passed my lips tonight. Late harvested Picolit from the same producer as the Friulano, complete with distinctive cogs gracing the label (2012, £6/125ml) brings comfort to the alert aspects of the dish.

My thoughts overall are that Wilson basically rescued uneven cooking with his intriguing vinous selections and atmospheric explanations. The food struck me, technically and visually, as comparable to that of a bright and enthusiastic, but not necessarily notably talented home cook. One hopes refinement can occur to long put into the ground the ghost of Mr. Wallace’s previous unpopular venture. However, in mind of the pappardelle, it seems unavoidable to utter the MasterChef talisman’s immortal line: “cooking doesn’t get tougher than this…”

For Harper's