Freshly opened, Spiaggia (‘beach’) is the venture of Iraq-born, Italy-raised Mish Haddad, whose eye for style impresses before you even sit down. Designed to transport us out of the cold and straight into the Italian Riviera, Spiaggia’s interior exudes an old-world ritziness to make any aspirant Drapers and Hepburns swoon.
You could certainly pick a worse destination than the Italy of Byron, DH Lawrence and Calvino – a coast dotted with bright floral meadows and medieval towns, vertiginously backed by the Maritime Alps.
Also one of Italy’s most famous film locations, of course – and it doesn’t take long to realise Spiaggia’s the work of a cinephile. Venturing down to the ‘lower deck’, I see a projector and an inviting array of deck chairs on the sandy floor, along with a couple of retro arcade machines. I wouldn’t be against settling down for a showing of Roman Holiday, but I’m told film screenings only happen on Tuesdays.
So I go back up and take a seat in front of Spiaggia’s veteran barman, Paul, who seems pretty on-it as far as keeping up with London’s cocktail arms race goes. The row of obscure and fancy bottles I see on the top shelf confirms as much. Eager to test his skills, I go for a full salvo: a fruity daiquiri, then a radiantly colourful ‘spiaggia sunrise’, followed by a little Nutella-based number that I can’t recommend enough called a Happy Monkey.
After which I take a chance on something truly bizarre: a Cohen Brothers twist on a White Russian that he calls a smoked Lebowski. The secret ingredient: actual cigar smoke. My face graduates from skepticism to morbid fascination as he pours the liquid into a dark brown bottle through a funnel, disappears out back for a couple of minutes and, yes, returns with a drink containing the breath of a Cuban dictator. Surprisingly, not bad at all – if you’re familiar with the flavour. A smart alternative to a smoking area, at the very least.
The food menu’s designed for casual tapas-style shareable grazing, and I suffer from the problem I always have with this type of food: it’s a license to be a total pig. After sampling the bruschetta and mushroom pate (excellent cocktail companion) I can’t decide between octopus salad or breaded calamari, so I order both. The octopus tastes fresh if a little dry with the salad, and the calamari is perfectly crispy and tangy with the aioli, as you’d hope.
But next the ‘piadina’, the grilled Italian flatbread presented as the ‘beach alternative to pizza’, oversells itself. To be fair, I have ordered perhaps the most boring variety, the Classica. But it’s little more than a ham sandwich – undeniably plain, too heavy on the lettuce and not forthcoming enough with the meat, making me wish I’d ordered from the more elaborate versions.
The taglietelli al ragu isn’t bad at all, but where you should really throw all your money down is the chilli and garlic prawn skewers – hearty, satisfying and a perfect complement to the summer vibes.
It’s a menu that shows a clear willingness to experiment, which I hope will iron out the imperfections in time. Besides, it’s the unique style here and relaxed seafront atmosphere that’ll keep you coming back – especially if you’re in the mood for one of Paul’s cocktails, which are up there with the best in London. If like me the closest you’ll be getting to a beach holiday by the end of this winter is south London, Spiaggia makes for a very worthy stopover.
461 – 465 North End Road
Tel: 0207 610 2278