So we’re really keen to see how River Café trained prolific chef/restaurateur Stevie Parle's handmade pasta restaurant, Carnaby’s Pastaio, measures up. We find out that it is not just about the pasta.
Yes, it may be called Pastaio (which translates as 'cooks who make pasta by hand') and full-marks for the kitchen team hand-making fresh pasta in the window, but it is the fried mozzarella, honey and nduja sandwich that stays in our memory. It doesn't look much, but it is the late night snack of dreams: oozy, spicy with a hint of sweetness and satisfyingly wicked. Our only complaint, we'd like a bigger sandwich or a double order!
Alternative antipasti on offer are, a little less inspiring: a roast pepper with anchovy is simply that, though at £4 a portion it is hard to quibble. And, yes, clams cooked in white wine, butter and garlic – a tad salty – slip down a treat. Though, honestly we're completely in love with Rambla's take on clams with spider crab butter and little shards of jamon.
There are just six main pasta dishes – what matters really is the texture of the pasta – here it is spot on. We can't resist cacio e pepe bucatini made only with sheep’s cheese (cacio), and pepper (pepe); the dish from Ancient Rome that's got us wondering how such a pared down dish can be so delectable, really delivers. The sauce is silky, creamy and coats the pasta exactly as it should. A more robust pasta with slow-cooked spicy sausage and malloredus is deeply, richly satisfying. Both are less than a tenner.
As an aside to carbs, there's a multi-coloured heritage tomato salad with heady just picked perfume and castelfranco, that pleasingly pink, slightly bitter Italian chicory with pomegranate and sharp pecorino.
Desserts are straightforward too. It's not the best or lightest tiramisu I've ever tasted but it delivers on flavour. The chocolate and cherry tart is the stand-out for a return visit, or clementine sorbet – a refreshingly down-to-earth £2 a scoop.
The prosecco slushies are the way to start a meal. It is made overnight with lemon to impart a zesty tang. The playful note of drinks is in sync with the contemporary, vibe-y fun of the restaurant, designed by Tom Dixon's Design Research Studio. Seating is at communal terrazzo tables and we note that diners – a mix of shoppers, tourists, foodie fans of Stevie Parle, clubbers after a pre-night out carb load – really do get talking with each other. The whole place has an addictive, convivial high-energy buzz.
The pasta theme has literally been taken to the wall. There's a large mural designed by graphic designer Rob Lowe, aka. Supermundane, whose signature geometric images depict rigatoni, ravioli and spaghetti.
Sixty years after Richard Dimbleby’s 1957 spoof documentary about the spaghetti harvest in Switzerland, pasta really does seem to be growing on trees in today’s London. And we're happy to harvest it – especially at Pastaio.
Price: dinner for two with aperitivo and wine £40.00+
|Where||19 Ganton Street, Soho, London, W1F 7BU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Piccadilly Circus (underground)|
30 Oct 17 – 02 Nov 18, Mon-Sun 12pm - late
|Website||Click here to book|