As someone who admittedly keeps a more watchful eye on the latest foodie bulletins than on world news – it’s unsurprising that I promptly arrive for lunch at Pastaio just two days into its soft launch.
To say that Stevie Parle’s new eatery is one of the most anticipated openings this autumn, would be a gross understatement in keen foodie circles. I’ve barely posted one of my dishes on Instagram, before comments start rolling in from Insta-friends enthusiastically plotting their own visit.
The three dear friends who are with me at lunch are epicures too, albeit in the old-fashioned sense of the word. They value high-quality cooking (quite frequently from the comfort of their own kitchen), but are clueless about the latest food trend and come to think of it, have never photographed any of their meals, let alone posted it online.
They are not overly-familiar with Parle’s impressive career – he trained at the River café before going on to open a string of successful restaurants including Rotorino and Palatino; and all told, they are a bit bemused by the queues lengthily forming outside (I’ve hawkishly planned our arrival just in time to avoid the wait). They are not the only ones.
Pastaio’s enviable location in the heart of Carnaby means that our fellow diners include passers-by (from shoppers to tourists) who haven’t previously heard of the restaurant, but are drawn in by its convivial look – particularly the welcoming sight of the open-plan kitchen by the entrance, churning out fresh pasta. If you’re wondering: Pastaio itself means pasta-maker, referring to the chefs who hand-make the pasta.
The carb-heavy menu here is very much the stuff of an autumnal or winter-night’s dream, including the likes of fried mozzarella and honey sandwiches – which we see flying out of the kitchen.
We opt for a lighter prelude to our pasta party. Speckled with pecorino and pomegranate, the salad of Castelfranco leaves finds an agreeable balance between sweet and bittersweet. The pescatarian amongst us also tucks into a bowl of clams cooked in white wine, butter and garlic. It’s a tad salty, but delivers the promised satisfaction.
And we discover that the only thing better than Prosecco at lunch-time, is Pastaio’s Prosecco slushy, made overnight with lemon to impart a zesty tang. The playful note of our drinks is in sync with the unprepossessingly-relaxed tone of the restaurant, which carries through to our joyfully spot-hitting plates of pasta.
Star billing goes to the Cacio e Pepe of course. Made with just sheep’s cheese (Cacio), and pepper (Pepe), the dish from Ancient Rome has been having a moment for a while now.
I won’t bore you by nattering on about the masterful skill required to transform dry cheese and water into a softly-smooth and creamy sauce (having previously written about it, here); but will say that Parle’s latest rendition is as pleasurably-perfect as it gets – the thick strands of bucatini (distinguished by the hole running through their centre) clad with just the right amount of cheese.
As silky as it is meatily-earthy, tagliatelle tumbled together with wild mushrooms, garlic and olive oil is another front-runner, its artful simplicity proving once again that less is more. Meanwhile, my artist friend, Daisy, finds an instant appeal in the colourful textures of her crab, courgette, tomato and marjoram fusilli.
The cherry on top of a stand-out meal arrives in the form of a faultless chocolate and cherry tart. Although there’s never such a thing as too much chocolate, the dollop of sour cream on the side proves a perfect foil.
It’s not been an entirely infallible afternoon. As I mentioned earlier, our visit is during the soft launch and the half-price menu – quite fairly – trades off against early teething issues on the service front (our initial order is misplaced and dishes sometimes arrive at the wrong tables).
These issues are to be expected of any restaurant running a soft launch. In Pastaio’s case, it’s the placatory response of the manager who personally addresses the mix-ups, which makes an impressionable difference.
In my (at times, jaded) experience, it is often difficult for restaurants to exceed the honeypot-buzz surrounding their hyped opening. I’m glad to find that this is not true of Pastaio, where foodies (of all manners) can seek comfort in fuss-free and felicitous cooking.
Pastaio, 19 Ganton Street, W1F 7BU
More on new & noteworthy restaurant openings in London, here.