Wandering down Grantham Street last Tuesday, my friend and I scoured the road for several minutes in an attempt to locate Sprezzatura, Camden Market’s hyped new pasta bar. While standing on the curb, our perplexed expressions prompted a woman on her cigarette break to ask us whether we were looking for “that new pasta place”, and subsequently informed us that we were, in fact, standing directly beside it. Impressively, the restaurant had lived up to its name before we had even entered the building; “sprezzatura” is an Italian word that denotes a sense of nonchalance, and few things are more nonchalant than a restaurant without a sign.
Its lack of signage was not the only unusual thing about Sprezzatura and we remained slightly disconcerted throughout our visit. For example, the restaurant had no paper menus. Instead, meal options were scrawled almost illegibly on a blackboard, something which was not explained to us at any point. Before this realisation, I had squeezed myself into a precariously tight space between two tables, almost injuring a man innocently eating a bowl of gnocchi with my backpack in the process, and the thought of getting up again to peruse the menu was mildly stressful. Likewise, Sprezzatura does not take cash payments, yet we were only informed of this when we went up to pay after our meal. This general lack of communication could easily lead to some sticky situations for customers. There was certainly a sense that Sprezzatura is still finding its feet, but this was understandable considering that it has only been open for business since the beginning of the month.
While Sprezzatura lost some points for communication, it easily made up for it by leading the way in sustainability. Despite the confusion about the menu, it was wonderful to see that they are a completely paperless business. Even better was the news that all of their drinks are on tap, so no throwaway glass or plastic bottles are used. Likewise, their packaging is compostable and the restaurant runs entirely on renewable energy. They even have plans for a “trash pasta” deal at lunchtimes, in which meals will be made from leftovers to prevent food waste. Furthermore, if you are worried about the soil erosion and desertification which is caused by a certain notorious industry, Sprezzatura is a completely olive oil-free zone. Instead, they use rapeseed oil from Wicklow. Essentially, eating at this restaurant is an entirely guilt-free experience. Well, perhaps not if you are on a diet, but you deserve a treat if you are having lunch there. You’ve just saved another tree from deforestation.
I opted for a simple dish of tomato and basil rigatoni. Interestingly, all the pasta in the restaurant is handmade. I enjoyed the taste of the rigatoni, although it fell slightly below my high expectations. I assumed that its handmade quality would add something to the meal, but to me, it tasted exactly like the pre-packaged pasta that I cook at home. Its saving grace was a light sprinkling of delicious mozzarella, which complimented the pasta perfectly and did not run the risk of overpowering its taste. The portion was quite small, which was ideal for lunch, but I would have considered it to be quite paltry if I had intended it to be my main meal of the day.
So, who exactly is Sprezzatura for? Before going to the restaurant, I had assumed it would quickly become a firm favourite amongst students, particularly because of its reasonable prices. Both of our meals came to just €14 altogether, and no dish on the menu costs more than €10, so it is an ideal place to go for a budget meal. However, with its plain, whitewashed decor and a clientele of predominantly young professionals, it did not immediately strike me as somewhere that the student population will rush to any time soon. That is not to say it is unsuitable for students; it would be a perfectly nice place for us to go on a date or meet a friend. However, its relatively small size and cramped spacing means that it is not a convenient place to go with a larger group of people. This also means that it fills up rapidly, so booking online would be advisable, especially at dinner time. Overall, I would certainly recommend Sprezzatura if you desire a quick, ethical and inexpensive meal in the city centre.