Restaurant reviews | Pastaiao and the new pasta craze

Restaurant reviews

Pastaiao and the new pasta craze

If you want to open a new restaurant serve pasta. That seems to be the formula for success these days.

It started with Padella in Borough market which, excellent though it is, still somewhat incomprehensibly attracts long queues of customers who brave wind and rain for a plate of cacio e pepe - the pasta du jour for the majority of the cool new pasta joints.

Other on-trend places are Padella's parent restaurant Trullo and the bar at Luca in St John Street where I had a spectacularly good pasta with pistachio pesto the other day.

In Bristol we have the much heralded Pasta Loco and Bombolini up the Gloucester Road which is the epitome of a warm, welcoming Italian family restaurant, albeit run by a Brit.

But why is pasta the focus all of a sudden? I mean we all cook pasta at home (though less than we used to apparently) Why do we want it when we go out?

Well, because we're being offered better pasta than we could possibly make ourselves for one thing: what one might almost call - and i’m sure someone will - gastro pasta. It feels more healthy than burgers (though may well not be depending on the sauce) and it makes for a cheaper - and more comforting - meal than the typical small plates experience.

From the restaurateur’s point of view it’s certainly a win. the ingredients are generally low cost, it doesn’t involve expensive kit like a pizza oven. and you can get customers in and out within the hour (which is maybe why starters and puds are often underwelming. They don’t want you to linger)

Anyway a friend and I gave one of London's latest, Stevie Parle's Pastaio a quick road test this week on its first full day’s opening and found the pasta all a hard core pasta fan could wish for. Cacio e Pepe, with fat bucatini was suitably peppery, a special of loosely folded agnolotti, stuffed with grouse and rabbit and bathed in a luxuriantly buttery sauce even better. Most of the pasta (though maybe not the bucatini?) is made on the spot

But - pace my theory above - the starters were nothing to write home about: an undercooked red pepper stuffed with a slightly watery tomato and an underpowered castelfranco (a kind of radicchio) pomegranate and pecorino salad were both disappointing as was a delicious-sounding cannoli with ricotta, orange, saffron and pistachio which failed to live up to its billing. You’d be better off, if you crave something sweet, with the refreshing clementine sorbet.

I’m sure those elements will improve - Parle is an experienced restaurateur and these are early days - but that said, pasta - and a good glass of wine - is what to go to a pasta restaurant for. Don't necessarily try and turn it into a three course meal.

Pastaio is in 19 Ganton Street, just off Carnaby Street.

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