The best things in life are simple. That’s why no one’s favourite thing is building flat-pack furniture or recounting the plot line of Twin Peaks. No, simplicity is basically laziness’ more sophisticated cousin. It’s the key to a good time. And in no case is that more true than the Roman pasta dish, cacio e pepe. Made with cheese, pepper, and some al dente pasta. It’s super simple but at these restaurants, it also happens to be fantastic.
When my nephew is sad, he whimpers “I need cheesy pasta” whilst forcing some very large performative tears. Saying, “bloody hell, could really do with some cacio e pepe” and sighing, is the adult equivalent. Soho’s Bancone is just the place for a grown-up dinner and you can’t really go wrong with a bowl of bucatini cacio e pepe at their counter. They also have an equally lovely spot in Covent Garden, but from our experience the cacio e pepe at their Soho branch the sauce is a little thicker, and therefore, better.
La Mia Mamma make the best cacio e pepe in London. There, we said it. The fact that this cacio e pepe hits the mark every single time is probably down to the fact that it’s made by the Italian ‘mammas’, a group of legit female chefs that seriously know their pasta. The mammas take turns exploring different regional dishes, but you’ll always find this pepper-heavy wonder on their à la carte menu. Expect an upbeat restaurant that’s a proper laugh, jolly sing-songs for people’s birthdays, and enough pecorino to make you forget your own name.
Is the cacio e pepe at Tavolino the best in London? No. See above. See below. But, importantly, their huge outdoor terrace overlooking Tower Bridge, might be our favourite place to actually eat cacio e pepe. Don’t get us wrong, they’re generous with the pepper and the bucatini has excellent bite. We’re just saying that you’re here for that cheesy pasta and you’re here for the views. A negroni or two won’t hurt either.
Padella is the rockstar of London handmade pasta joints. If you’ve currently got a mental image of Keith Richards hand rolling rigatoni in a chef’s hat, then same. But the point is, Padella is the most famous and arguably, most loved, of this city’s pasta restaurants. Not only are their dishes wildly cheap - we’re talking £6.50 for the pici cacio e pepe - but they pretty much put this dish on the London food map. Both their Borough and Shoreditch restaurants are constantly rammed, but you can join the queue with the Walk-Up app and have a glass of wine nearby whilst you wait. Trust us, it’s worth it.
Much like cacio e pepe itself, Pastaio is a simple restaurant. And we mean that in the best possible way. This place is all about handmade pasta, Aperol Spritz, admiring their colourful, funky back wall, and easy laughs with a few mates. The only snag is that they no longer have their cacio e pepe on their menu, but before you panic and start shouting ‘WHY CAN’T I HAVE NICE THINGS’, know that they absolutely will make it for you if you ask nicely. Can’t get a booking at their OG Soho spot? They have a restaurant in White City too.
Cacio e pepe purists look away now, because this one goes out to all of our alternative cacio e pepe lovers out there. We see you and we want to tell you about a little something, known to us as Manteca’s bloody lovely crab cacio e pepe tonnarelli. Between all that cheese and the crab, this number is mega-rich. Like, Logan Roy, early-Apple-investor, Beyoncé-on-a-yacht, kind of rich. We recommend sharing a bowl whilst also getting involved in a couple of other certified nice things from this cool and casual Soho spot.
We like to smell - and feel - like a walking pepper grinder after eating cacio e pepe. But for some strange reason, not everybody does. If you’re after a cacio e pepe that’s more cacio than pepe, then Il Pampero is the one for you. This stylish, upmarket restaurant inside The Hari hotel has a distinct rat-pack, high-roller feel. More importantly, their cacio e pepe is usually served out of a giant wheel of Pecorino Romano. Just be sure to let them know that you want the full tableside cheese experience. We like to add more pepper to ours and it’ll set you back an eye-watering £14.50. But hey, welcome to Belgravia baby.
It’s time for an honest conversation. If this guide was called ‘Where To Sit And Eat Pasta For Hours’ then Al Dente wouldn’t have made the cut. But this is about cacio e pepe, and that’s something Al Dente do well. This little pasta bar and shop on Goodge Street isn’t the comfiest of places and their pasta dishes can be very hit and miss, but for a quick bowl of £6.95 tonnarelli you can’t go wrong. The sauce is thick - just the way we like it - and you can also grab some fresh pasta to cook at home.
In Case You Need A Back-Up…
Radici in Islington is a perfect for anyone and anything kind of restaurant. We’ve had a great cacio e pepe here as part of the set menu, but we’ve also had the a la carte version which is a bit of a dud. May the odds be ever in your favour.
Bermondsey’s Flour And Grape make a mean cacio e pepe but it isn’t currently on their menu. The good news? It changes regularly. Hit this link to remain on permanent cacio e pepe watch. We salute your commitment to the cause.
Wild Honey is a swish restaurant inside the Sofitel hotel in St. James’s. That’s right, we said ‘swish’. Their hand-cut macaroni and chicken wing cacio e pepe starter is an interesting take on a classic. Expect big prices and lots of velvet.