Temper is a new pizza restaurant in Mercers Walk, Covent Garden, and it is as glib and polished as you could wish. Temper is the third of that name; it follows restaurants in the City of London and Soho, which served BBQ and breads, and did them well enough to merit a sister. (The founding chef, Neil Rankin, was at Barbecoa, Jamie Oliver’s failed meat barn in Piccadilly.)
It lives on the ground floor of what appears to be a new building, or development, made of bright orange bricks, with bright green false balconies, above an L-shaped court that runs from Mercer Street to Langley Street. On the ground floor, on pale grey tiles, is written the word, in lower case: temper. It’s a good name. It’s an emotion, in a district that once had much — Gin Lane is slightly to the north — but increasingly has none. Almost no one lives in Covent Garden anymore, and the Victorian-style carriage lamps feel like a taunt, because this is no Narnia and carriage lamps on beige bricks — the lamps have spread to the opposite wall — are ridiculous. It is a tidy piece of capitalism, open and available but in no way charming. There is an enormous H&M opposite Temper — it sells dresses — and slender metal trees with plastic fruit are nailed to the walls. Metal trees are a fresh hell, but I should like to see a metal magnolia tree before I die. These are sterile lands.
Inside, it is long and light, with greys and woods and tiny bright blue chairs for tiny people. It is generic of course — generic is safe, and it sells — but well finished and well done; a comfortable restaurant with a kitchen open to the eyes, and vermouth and pina colada on tap for those who still have the ability to feel joy. It is early evening, and we are the only customers. That means nothing, for I eat at odd hours, like a vampire; the young and the excitable will come when I have left. We sit outside, on stones coloured like a chessboard and boxed in by topiary — real, not metal, for now — which seems vulnerable to theft; ah, rich London and your fake gardens! It is hard to feel the city in this dull orange-brick L-shape, for although Temper is well-priced (for its newness?), this is Covent Garden, now a land of the itinerant rich, who furnish the world the same wherever they are, for failure of imagination and cracked love of neutrals. I didn’t mean for this pizza column to become another piece about gentrification, and please don’t interpret that as a plea to return to the era of mass child mortality and wishing wells. It just came out that way.
The food then: it is suave Italian, faintly foodie and weird, so it is nothing like Spaghetti Junction in Teddington, which I have loved, or its successor Shambles, or the Coffee Cup in Hampstead. For who would pay for such well-worn, well-loved food here? We eat, rather, beef fat and pesto ravioli, a lardo carbonara with duck egg, and a beef ragu polenta, all of which, though good, would have been better without, respectively, the pesto, the lardo, the duck egg and the polenta. (The margarita pizza was very good, though, and this matters.) We didn’t stay for pudding.
So, novelty is essential, and there is plenty of it at Temper. But it is the fearful novelty of a smart pizzeria in a smart development in a smart district of a London where the trees are metal. It feels connected to nothing tangible. I suppose it might be fashionable. And that is Temper. No one could accuse it of having a soul, but it is young yet, and perhaps that is the point.