The world of romantic clichés is a fiercely competitive one. You’ve got Paris. You’ve got sunsets. You’ve got pretending you don’t want the last chip. Somewhere near the top of that list, for London at least, is Campania and Jones - an Italian restaurant off Columbia Road where everyone goes to fall in love. Even if it is only with a bowl of gnudi.
Campania’s most obvious USP is its aesthetic. “U so pretty” is what you’ll say to its wooden exterior and the ankle-turning, heel-kryptonite cobbled street it’s on. “Gor-juss” is how you’ll describe everyone eating pasta inside the rustic space. “Stunn-ing” is the word for your ceramic plate, and the carafe-happy table of monotone-clad cheekbones opposite. If it all sounds very fashion darling, that’s because it is. Nothing or nobody here would be seen dead, or even scattered in the general direction of a Primarni.
But the beauty of Campania isn’t just surface level. It runs deep and rich, just like their ragu di cervo that’s served with thick, noodle-ish belts of pappardelle. Ordering bread with this, or anything here, is essential. Firstly, because bread. And secondly, because the helpings - some of which are more generous than your own mother’s - are served with mopping up in mind. This is the case with the saucy venison ragu, where wiping down the bowl with a sponge of sourdough between your fingers is a must. In Italy they call this la scarpetta. We call it less washing up. Either way, it’s just one of the reasons you’re likely to fall in love and come back here again and again.
This is a restaurant where romances are formed or rekindled, whether that be across the candlelit table, or with a plate of ravioli you once thought about eloping with. In fact, pretty much everything at Campania shows off heart and tastefulness. From the back room where pasta is made all day, to the antique and candle-filled space that makes the villa from Call Me By Your Name look like Trainspotting, to the shared table of families tucking into tiramisu, all wearing the Commes des Garcon heart on their sleeves.
Ever since Campania first opened, it’s been popular with people playing London. As in wandering (being shoved) through Columbia Road Flower Market before perching on the cobbles (sitting on damp pavement) with a pint in hand before casually heading (booking at least a week in advance) for a meal at Campania. This shouldn’t put you off though, because everyone here is play-acting a little. Playing holiday. Or playing it cool. But most of all, playing the romantic.
This isn’t the best sourdough we’ve ever had, but it’s some of the most essential. Being caught short here without a sauce vehicle is a rookie error. Just don’t try passing the giant ceramic bowl across the table - it’s the kind of weapon you’d find in Cluedo: Hackney Edition.
This is an essential order, but don’t confuse the three ricotta-stuffed balls as an opportunity for romantic generosity between two of you. Fight for every bite you can get of these cheesy balls. Because once they’re gone, you’ll miss them.
A big flying saucer of pasta filled with cheese and greens that bobs about in a light seafood broth. It’s not as good as the gnudi, but it’s still pretty nice.
Campania’s parmesan policy is a simple one: every table gets their own wedge and grater for you to apply as liberally or obscenely as you like. We endorse this policy.
This is an unashamedly hefty portion of pasta that swims in multiple layers of delicious venison sauce. The pappardelle is thick and fat and you should definitely order it.
You’ll want this tortelli on your table whether you’re vegetarian or not. The mushrooms are fat and full of flavour, as is the earthy-tasting tortelli filling. And again, that blob of ricotta and leftover sauce will need cleaning up.
“Ugh work” is what lots of people think, say, or moan when they see shell-on prawns. Well that’s your loss people, ’cos this is damn delicious. The rice has just the right amount of bite and the sweet tomato and seafood sauce is chuggable.
For a bowl of food that has all the finesse of a broken shopping trolley, there is something extremely endearing about this meatloaf. It can be a little dry, but that’s what the sauce is for, and it’s worth sharing if there are a few of you.
The ideal tiramisu slaps you in the face with coffee before kissing you with lots and lots of mascarpone cream. That’s what this tiramisu does.