Stevie Parle’s Clerkenwell based Palatino was responsible for one of my finest 2017 date night dinners. The venue perfectly straddled the cosy-stylish divide, the service was top notch and the food was flat-out fantastic. Carbs are taken as seriously as Trump in my house and their Gnocchi alla Romana is the stuff of dreams though it is, of course, quelle horreur for Atkins devotees.
Opening a new, very centrally located place is something that’s always going to be accompanied by a whole new set of sky-high expectations as well as a new crowd of diners, for whilst EC1 is a barely-worth-putting-outdoor-shoes-on length stroll from my North London home, it’s considered something of a trek by anyone living elsewhere on the capital’s compass. This just-off Carnaby Street location is moments from theatres, cinemas & flagship stores so understand that you may well spot an M&M’s World bag or a Hamley’s survivor inside – you’ll recognise them by the look of shell-shock on their faces.
Like a similarly named, no-reservations, South London counterpart, Pastaio specialises in fresh pasta and, apparently, drawing the crowds. During its recent soft launch, my attempt to feast on the cheap was rebuffed by a 2 hour wait, something my at-the-time growling stomach made quite clear was not going to happen. Returning a week later for a Thursday night, girl date supper we were seated immediately and the restaurant was quiet enough in the no man’s land time period that falls between finishing work & beginning to dine for us to fall a little bit in love with the place. Long communal tables in beautiful flecked stone, an open plan kitchen constantly blurred behind puffy clouds of steam and a warm, mellow glow from the sort of lighting that makes everyone look that little bit more attractive.Having checked the menu ahead of time like any self-respecting obsessive, £4 Prosecco slushies were on my mind and within minutes, in my hand. Tarter than a straight up glass of bubbles, the stripy-strawed glass of sharp, lemony snow multi-tasked like a champ, washing down the food and softening the edges of a long day. Wine also starts at £4 a glass and comes from a set of taps in the wall. Genius. I want them in my kitchen.
The fried Mozzarella, n’duja & honey sandwich is crispy, stringy & warmly spiced. The following comment may sound like a compliment of the backhanded variety but it possessed the perfect levels of both greasiness and crunch and though the bonds of friendship are strong, this starter was shared with some difficulty.
I’ve long held the belief, dear reader, that each type of pasta tastes different. I love curly mafaldine but can leave claggy angel hair. I kinda have a thing for cavatappi but penne sends me to sleep. I know. Weird doesn’t even begin to cover it but there you have a glimpse into the kind of musings I lose hours of my life to. Bucatini rates highly on my gobble-ometer…the length of spaghetti with an almost inexplicable-as-to-how-they-do-it hole running through each strand? Adore.
Serving it here with the now somewhat fabled cacio e pepe is a clever twist on the more traditional pici and as my first foray into the world of Pecorino, butter, olive oil & black pepper, it was thick, slippery & soothing, salty, peppery & altogether dreamy.
Malloredus, a tiny striped pasta that looks like chubby baby gnocchi, was new to me and came liberally splattered with a slow cooked sausage sauce, rich from meat, sweet from tomatoes and incredibly comforting. FYI, a sideways glance at a neighbour’s table showed the grouse, rabbit & pork agnoli also looking molto bene. Portions are sized well being generous enough to feel that the exceptionally reasonable pricepoints are valid but dainty enough to encourage the partaking of desserts.
Chocolate cherry tart is fudgy, dense and surprisingly light. Cannoli shatters in the hand & under the fork, exploding delicate orange & pistachio cream across the plate. Cherry-amaretto ice-cream is ripe with the flavours of marzipan and sweet stone fruit. This is a good dessert menu. Short yes, but good and made even better because not once during our nearly 3-hour dinner were we rushed along. Thank-you Stevie et al for realising that a dining experience doesn’t end the minute the last forkful is gone.
It’s hard to commit yourself to return restaurant visits in London but it’s even harder to find the places that make those commitments justified. Pastaio, with its calm and inviting demeanour despite being sat in one of the busiest neighbourhoods in the capital, is one such spot, worthy of both your time, your money and your adoration of all things pasta.