Beer and Loathing: La Figa, Limehouse.
Why you should never go to a weird Italian restaurant before it opens.
Our first mistake was to think that Wapping was a good place to go and get breakfast. For some reason I just assumed that because of its concentration of well paid city types there would be a range of up market and slightly quirky eateries offering breakfast and the like. Also me and my ladyfriend knew that the Wapping Project existed, so if all else failed we could go there. All else did indeed fail and we tried to go there. But, far from sate our lust for breakfast the employees of the Wapping Project did something rather strange when we walked up to their front door and tried to get in. They came up to the door themselves, vaguely tried to unlock it for us. Then thought better of it and sort of just stood a bit further away from the door than they had been before. Fine. Fuck you, we didn’t want to eat art anyway.
So we walked east in search of nourishment, eventually finding a sign that, amongst many other things, said ‘breakfast’ on it. We were about to find out that breakfast was something that probably shouldn’t have been written on this sign. After climbing some stairs we found ourselves in the large square courtyard of a block of flats that looked like it had been built around the same time as Canary Wharf etc. The bottom floor of the block of flats that encompassed this square had all been turned into restaurants, minus one that was just whitewashed. I would not describe the location of any of these restaurants as ideal. As they were in a pretty rubbish location in an equally rubbish building.
Our restaurant though, the one that had threatened us with breakfast, was called La Figa and was apparently battling their poor location by striving to be the most tasteless establishment in the whole of London. It was kitted out with what I can safely say are the jankest chairs I have ever laid my eyes upon. Let me try my darndest to describe them to you.
Right. Start with a thin plank of wood, about 5 foot long. Coat this plank of wood in red leather and stand it upright. You now have the back of your jank chair. Next, do the same leather coating job to a large dinner plate, but scuff the top of the leather with the sole of a shoe so that it is stained black. You now have the seat of the chair. Finally attach 4 mini leather planks to the seat and weld it to the plank we started with. Congratulations, you have made the grossest chair in the world. It looks like the sort of thing that would be in a 60s Bond villain hideout if the Bond villain was Donatella Versace on the dole.
Upon entering my ladyfriend enquired as to how open they were. Reasons for our slight apprehension as to whether they were open include, but are not limited to;
- Loads of electrical equipment and tools on top of the bar
- The two Italian men at the door ignoring us as we entered
- An extremely Italian man who we took to be the owner walking around the restaurant shouting and swearing on the phone
- Random boxes everywhere
- It being decked out for a fucking wedding, think baroque folded napkins on every table and about a bazillion tables in a room that was designed for nine
- It was 11.54am
The bow tie clad bar tender sort of shrugged when she posed the question to him and pointed to a table for two by the window. We dutifully went and sat down. Shortly afterwards the waiter arrived for work and hastily donned his waiter’s apron. He came over with the menus. Laminated menus. A strange move for somewhere that apparently thought it was emulating Covent Garden’s finest eateries judging by the décor and fucking chairs.
Whilst we perused the unsettlingly expensive menu, the extremely Italian man’s morning of shouting and being Italian was progressing. It turned out that he needed to get something removed in order to put a piano in its place (I literally shit you not, a piano). However just what was being removed was as of yet unclear. But some local geezers who I assumed were removal technicians had turned up and introduced themselves to the extremely Italian man. We now knew that this dude was the owner and by jove did that make sense. If you were to see this guy on the street you would immediately think ‘I bet that guy owns a fucking horrible tacky restaurant with weird chairs’ and likewise were you to enter La Figa you would think ‘I bet the guy who owns this place has a slicked back ponytail and tiny tinted glasses and is really angry about everything.’
Our meal was actually pretty good. But a long, long way from breakfast. As it was pizza. And the only time you have pizza for breakfast is when you order it drunk, don’t eat it, then have it microwaved the next morning. Apparently Italian breakfast is just coffee, said my ladyfriend, they just have a shot of esspresso standing up then run off to work. We did also have coffee so maybe that counts as our breakfast. But if that is the case then it was immediately followed by lunch. Obviously in keeping with La Figa’s décor theme of ‘mental shit all the time’ the cups and saucers looked like they had been designed by Judge Dredd.
Whilst eating our very delicious pizzas the case of the mysterious piano delivery developed. All the chefs were called out, as was our waiter, and told to move the huge deli fridge unit that was inexplicably to one side of the front door as you came in. Think one of those Subway counters but curved. They did this by ripping it out of the floor. Exhuming a patch of wood that hadn’t been cleaned in 20 years and sent dust flying up everywhere, including our lungs. Don’t worry though! The good staff at La Figa weren’t going to let this ruin our meal. After noisily dragging out the huge unit they sorted out the dirty bit of flooring that was being such an eyesore by getting the bleach out. In a big way. The smell of which I find really compliments a Fiorentina.
After all this we asked for our bill and were told that we had to wait 10 minutes whilst they connected the till systems back up. We passed the time by going to the toilet and continuing to be gobsmacked by the décor. All in all the most bizarre restaurant experience I have ever had.
We were the only people in here that weren’t staff. And the staff were so Italian they had trouble standing.
Just one road away from a beautiful river view over to Rotherhithe, instead unfortunately you get to see a courtyard with a fountain in it that has seen better days and an Indian restaurant that, from the outside at least, looks as clueless as its Italian counterpart.
After leaving La Figa we walked along a bit and found Gordon Ramsay’s pub, The Narrow, which was literally two minutes away. We assumed it would be crazy expensive but in fact it was probably the same price as La Figa were they to have had a similar menu. But here you did get a river view, an angry celebrity cooked your food, the beer was good and you weren’t force fed dust and bleach fumes. Instead we had spent roughly £30 on a meal I spent the entire duration of chuckling and whispering “what the fuck is going on?”
I would actually be so curious to see this place in full swing. Who would come here? It is beyond gross. It’s as if we walked in on a new Peter Kay sitcom but this time it’s about a clueless Italian restaurant instead of a clueless working men’s club. And there were so many staff on. I counted 11 not including the geezers who had come to move the thing. Why would you need that many chefs and auxilliary staff were you not expecting to be rammed every day? Having said all this, I don’t regret choosing La Figa for our ‘breakfast.’ It was a unique dining experience that, whilst I wouldn’t recommend, I will probably remember for a long time.
Do you have any god awful pubs in mind for Jack to go to at some point in the future? If you do please harass him on twitter @beerandloathinz