Pasta has always been a favourite of mine. I’ve always said that if I could only eat one cuisine for the rest of my life it would be World Buffet, but my second choice would definitely be Italian, so I’m excited to visit Bancone. Having opened near Charing Cross station in 2017, it’s joined a range of great Italian restaurants in London including Padella, Lina Stores and Via Emilia in providing high-quality, freshly made pasta at reasonable prices, earning itself rave reviews from respected food reviewers including The Guardian, The Evening Standard, and if they’re lucky, my self-published WordPress blog that receives up to 50 page views a month.
Today I’ll be dining with Leonardo da Vinci. Painter, inventor, architect, raconteur and hopefully lover of pasta, Leonardo was ahead of his time, coming up with early concepts for devices such as helicopters, tanks, calculators and solar power. He’s one of the earliest examples of what’s come to be known as a ‘renaissance man’, somebody defined by their desire to embrace knowledge and develop their own capacities as fully as possible. In that respect we’re not so different, Leonardo and I. He, unquenchable in his thirst for knowledge, reflected in the legacy he has left within arts and science, and me, being borderline sarcastically praised by a cartoon owl for completing a two-day streak on Duolingo. We’re one and the same.
I sit at the counter and await Leonardo. Counter dining is always a nice experience. You can sit by yourself and not have to feel self-conscious about being alone. You could be with clowns to the left of you, or jokers to the right, but here you are, stuck in the middle with your own morbid and self-destructive thoughts. Bancone’s counter-dining situation is pleasant. Often counter-dining can be a fast track to staring at a bottle of Bailey’s for an hour or two, but here I’m practically sat in the kitchen, to the extent I’d almost want to ask if I can do anything to help, were I not to cooking what Norovirus is to a day at Thorpe Park.
I’m snapped out of my thoughts by a flash of blinding blue light as a portal opens in the centre of the restaurant, and out steps Leonardo da Vinci.
“Ciao, Andy!” Says Leonardo, as he enthusiastically hugs me. He is dressed in a three-quarter length red metallic coat, sunglasses, and what appear to be hover boots.
“What was that?” I say, as the portal closes behind him.
“Time travel, I invented it recently. I’ve just now got back from the year 3000.”
“Oh, has not much changed but they live underwater?” I say, jokingly.
“It’s all changed, Andy. It’s all changed,” says Leonardo. “The sun is no more, water and any other kind of natural resources ran out a long, long time ago. Now it’s just a never-ending free-for-all where people drink the blood of their enemies from their skulls, and the only source of heat is their burning flesh, piled high, corpse upon corpse.”
“Oh… err… that doesn’t sound great.”
“Oh, I did see your great-great-great-granddaughter though!”
“Oh, that’s nice! How was she?”
“She was throwing an old man onto a burning flesh pile.”
“Maybe let’s just not talk about the future anymore.”
“Ok. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to use the bathroom,” says Leonardo as he disappears up the stairs. I flag the waiter down.
“Ok, so we’d like to start with the burrata, then let’s go for the silk handkerchiefs, the cacio e pepe, the morel ravioli and then maybe the strozzapr-”
I’m interrupted as there’s a blinding flash of red light, and another portal opens in the centre of the restaurant. Through this portal shuffles a man, maybe 60 to 70 years old. He is tall but apologetically so, hunching over like a troll poised to offer a riddle. His skin is pale to the point where you can nearly see through it, and his body is slim, with long and wiry arms that are clearly too long for the poorly-fitting shirt he’s wearing that he’s forgotten to take the price tag off. All in all, he looks like a less well-dressed Slenderman.
“Who the hell are you?” I ask.
“Andy, I’m you,” says the figure. “I’m here from the future.”
“Me? How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
“Ask me a question, something that only you and I could know the answer to.”
“Ok, what’s our biggest fear?”
“Oh wow, where to start? There’s spiders, obviously. People thinking you’re boring, people thinking you’re stupid, everybody secretly hating you, giant squid, people asking what you got up to at the weekend and you having to find new creative ways to say ‘I sat and stared into space for 48 hours, wastefully running down the clock to my own demise and achieving nothing’…”
“I tend to go with ‘it was just a fairly chilled one’.”
“… then there’s not achieving your potential, testing your potential and realising you never actually had any, being called out to a house in the middle of nowhere, getting locked in and realising it’s full of zombies – that one’s very specific, I guess Resident Evil had more of an effect on us than we realised – there’s expressing your emotions, scorpions, the Scorpion King, scarab beetles – there’s a lot from The Mummy Returns here – sand clouds with faces in-”
“Ok, you’ve proven your point! But why are you here?”
“I need you to kill Leonardo da Vinci.”
“I’ve just come from the year 3000. Things are not good and it’s all Leonardo’s fault. Did he tell you that he stole the sun?”
“No, he just said it was gone. Why would he steal it?”
“For one of his inventions. You know the Dyson Airblade? It’s like that, but it dries your hands quicker by directing harnessing the power of the sun.”
“That seems wasteful.”
“To be fair, it really does dry your hands quickly, but it’s turned the world into a lawless dystopia, full of misery and death. Oh, I’ll tell you who I did see though!”
“Oh god, it’s not-“
“Dare I ask how she was?”
“She was gorging herself on a severed leg.”
“I shouldn’t have asked.”
“Now that he’s come back to the year 2019, if we kill him now we can prevent any of this from happening, so you just distract him with your food review? I’ll hide somewhere around here and jump out and kill him, alright?”
“You won’t even know I’m here until I leap out and bludgeon him to death,” says future Andy, as he takes up a seat at a nearby table, puts on a baseball cap and shades and opens a huge newspaper. Shortly afterwards, Leonardo returns from the bathroom.
“My hands are sopping wet! Honestly, just you wait until you see what we have lined up in the future!” Says Leonardo with a wink. “Have you ordered?”
“Yes, I have,” I say, sheepishly, as Leonardo takes a seat, just in time for the food to begin arriving. We begin with the burrata and the silk handkerchiefs. The burrata is served with puffed rice on a plate smeared with balsamic vinegar. It’s wonderfully wobbly and creamy and the puffed rice adds a lovely crunch to the dish, the two opposing elements coming together fantastically. It’s overshadowed however by the silk handkerchiefs. Thankfully not actual fabric, these are thick squares of pasta folded in on themselves, slathered in walnut butter, crushed walnuts and topped with a confit egg yolk. Stirring in the yolk results in a sauce so rich it’s probably evading tax. It’s spectacular, and worth coming to the restaurant for by itself. I momentarily lose myself in it as I forget what lies ahead.
“So Andy, anything interesting going on?”
“No, not really,” I say, anxiously. “I saw a cat that looked like a snow leopard the other day.” The waiter returns with our cacio e pepe, morel ravioli and strozzapreti. I look over his shoulder and notice future Andy get up and start slowly creeping towards us.
“So nothing out of the ordinary?”
“…Yes,” I say, as I go to pass Leonardo the cacio e pepe. As I do, future Andy grabs a pepper mill and swings it towards Leonardo. Before it connects though, Leonardo spins around and zaps him with a bolt from his glove, freezing him in place.
“I KNEW IT!” Says Leonardo. “You brought me here to kill me, didn’t you?”
“What? No! I brought you here to help me review pasta!”
“Then explain this!” Says Leonardo, pointing to the frozen, older version of myself looming aggressively over him with a pepper mill and murder in his eyes.
“Ok, well that’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s actually quite funn-“
There’s another flash of light, and I find me (cacio e pepe still in hand), and my future self stood in a cold and dark wasteland.
“Welcome to the year 3000,” says Leonardo, emerging from the darkness with a pistol in hand.
“What? Why are we here?”
“To show you what you’d be missing,” says Leonardo. He picks up a bucket of water and throws it all over my hands, soaking them in the process and ruining the cacio e pepe.
“Hey! It’s freezing out here, I’ll get chapped hands!”
“Will you?” Says Leonardo. He gestures to a wall, onto which a small device is mounted. I warily plunge my hands into the slot. There’s a loud whirring sound and I immediately withdraw them in panic, only to find my hands completely bone dry.
“A Dyson Airblade takes a minimum of 10 seconds to just get your hands damp, all the while whirring them about in the dregs of everybody else’s hand gunk. I’ve cut that time down to less than a fraction of a second. And this is just the beginning! There are so many stars across the galaxy, think of what else we can achieve! Ovens that pre-heat in seconds! Toasters that don’t require a defrost button! Grills that cook all four sides at once!”
“But do we not need the sun for… you know… everything?”
“Urgh, you’re all the same. ‘We need the sun’, ‘we can’t grow our crops without the sun’, ‘my whole family fell into a ravine because they couldn’t see where they were going’. Do you know how long it takes to dry your hands naturally in the sun?”
“About two minutes?”
“Two minutes! That’s twelve times as long as the Airblade, so don’t you tell me the sun is worth keeping!”
“Why are you so obsessed with dry hands?”
Leonardo fixes me with a stare. “The year was 1498…” he says, and with a click of his fingers he transports us back to 15th century Florence. “I had just completed painting The Last Supper, and was at the peak of my powers. Today was the day when I would be revealing it to the world,” he continues, as he leads us to a town square where there is a crowd gathered, and a man who I assume must be the mayor stands on stage, alongside a curtain-covered easel. “But all did not go to plan.”
“Ladies and gentleman, Leonardo!” Says the mayor. The crowd all begin to applaud as a young Leonardo walks onto the stage excitedly. He walks over to the mayor and shakes his hand.
“Urgh, your hand, it is so moist!” Says the mayor, grimacing. “Leonardo da Vinci, more like Leonardo da wet hands!” Says the mayor. The entire crowd laughs uproariously, as the Mayor mimics going to shake Leonardo’s hand only to topple backwards.
“Wet hands! Wet hands! Wet hands!” Chant the crowd.
“I’m sorry, I just washed my hands!” Shouts Leonardo. “Do you not want to see my painting?” He continues, struggling to make himself heard about the noise. It is futile, the crowd continues to chant and perform slapstick gestures relating to wet hands, until Leonardo is forced to slink off stage in shame, his painting remaining fully covered.
“I was forever known as Leonardo da wet hands after that day. After all I’d done for civilisation, to be entirely defined by having wet hands ONE TIME!” Says Leonardo. “Everything I did since that day was designed to solve the problem of wet hands. The helicopter? A large fan to dry your hands. The parachute? A way to use wind resistance to dry your hands. The Mona Lisa? A woman showing off her hands, freshly helicopter-dried after a dip in the lake.”
“You’re insane,” says Future Andy.
“Insane?! You think this is insane?!”
“Well, I mean… you’ve destroyed the planet to make a single hand-dryer, so…”
“It doesn’t matter,” says Leonardo, as he shoots a flare gun into the sky. “Farewell, Andy.” There is a howling, shrieking noise in the darkness as the hordes of scavengers are alerted to our position. Weirdly, my first thought isn’t about my impending death, it’s actually about how hungry I am considering we paid around £30 per head for our meal, excluding drinks. The pasta dishes were not huge, and so whilst the restaurant does bill itself on being very reasonably priced, the price can quickly rack up as you do need to order a fair amount of food. It’s a frustrating last thought to have, but then it reminds me, we do have one course remaining.
“Wait!” I shout, as Leonardo reaches for his time-travelling glove.
“What now?” Sighs Leonardo. I quickly grab the soaked cacio e pepe from the floor and throw it at Leonardo, striking him in the face with the plate. It’s a remarkably violent scene that would cause the blog to be rated at least a 15, were there any point to classifying a piece of work that would likely never be seen (if a food blog falls in the forest, does it make a piercing, self-indulgent sound?). Leonardo falls to the ground, as Future Andy goes and tears the glove from his hand. He grabs me and we start to teleport out of there.
“Cacio on the flip side!” I say, and immediately regret it. Like, there’s a little bit of me that’s kind of proud, but mostly I feel the same kind of sad cringe I feel whenever I decide to click on the ‘Memories’ section of Facebook.
“You haven’t seen the last of Leonardo da Vinci!” Shouts Leonardo, as the hordes begin to emerge from the darkness. A young woman leaps upon him, sinking her teeth into his neck and pulling his arm from its socket as we disappear back into the past.
“That woman looked familiar, was she…”
“Just… don’t even ask, ok?”
Overall, I have to say…
8/10 – Tasty food but pricier than you expected.