Take some of the biggest trends of the past five years or so: natural wines; a nascent obsession with amaro; an interest in lesser-seen pasta shapes; the resurgence of fat; strong, graphic branding; a preference for snacking; Spritzes; Negronis; cacio e pepe; anchovies; butter. Ragazzi, the third venture from the people behind Love, Tilly Devine and Dear Sainte Éloise, ties them all together. For the cynical, it might look like trend-servicing. For the rest, it just looks like a good time.
Step into the squeezy space on Angel Place and the bar’s full, the banquettes are jammed, and there’s a buzz amplified by the close quarters. At one table, a couple preface a show at City Recital Hall next door with vermouth on ice and pasta fritta. At another, twentysomethings snap flat-lays of pasta complemented by coasters shouting CIAO and RAGAZZI in bold red typeface. Lights are low, a mirror is backlit, the room dressed, like so many models in this year’s fall catalogues, in shades of caramel, coffee and camel.
When chef and co-owner Scott Williams cooked around the corner at Bacco Osteria, his snacks and pasta were always highlights. At Ragazzi, they’re almost the whole menu. It’s a concept as easy to get behind as a plate of al dente spaghetti tossed in a sauce of pecorino and pepper bound with pasta water and butter. It’s a cacio e pepe with good levels of warmth and sharpness, plus some sweet heat from Espelette pepper. A glorious goat rotolo, meanwhile, sees the braised meat rolled into a sheet of pasta, sliced into rounds and served in nut-brown butter with a blob of stracciatella.
The menu changes often, but richness is a theme, as is good produce and solid technique. Pick the agnolotti dal plin, which translates to neat parcels filled with white asparagus in a sweet broth, to keep the focus on seasonal vegetables and lighter flavours. But then what of the cavatelli bolstered by a brothy mix of pork-and-fennel sausage and pippies? The better to over-order with.
For snacks, single serves of croquettes are a fine way to spend five dollars if Taleggio and ’nduja bursting out of a crisp shell is your idea of a party. Squares of fried pasta shipping tuna crudo and a slick of aioli are a fine way to spend eight.
They’re oily openers, but look tame next to the sourdough topped with an anchovy and enough chive butter to grease an axle. Fat’s not the enemy and all that, but there’s a limit. The lamb in the tartare, meanwhile, gets a little lost in the salt-fat hum of anchovy cream and chilli oil, but there’s no denying the appeal of the combination.
The relationship between grape and place is front of mind on the wine list, and whether it’s vermentino from Clare Valley makers Koerner or fruity nerello mascalese from Sicily’s Mount Etna, the Italian-style cellar is geared towards easy drinking. There’s some skin contact, but anything a pinot grigio-loving uncle might find too confronting is marked with a cute orange or cloud emoji as a disclaimer.
Listing a panna cotta for dessert keeps things neat, while icy scoops of housemade gelato in flavours like plum and grappa or melon and maple are both rustic and forward-thinking.
This combination is the right one, mitigating any sense that Ragazzi is only about hipness. Yes, staff could do some basics better and the menu needs more balance, but the queues aren’t suffering – nor should they. Trends may come and go, but good cooking, a crackling atmosphere, and a bittersweet finish over ice? These are things that never go out of style.