Locations across London. See pastaio.co.uk
The Xmas themed dishes at Pastaio turn out to be just what Santa ordered.
It’s always a bit of a worry when restaurants put on special Christmas dishes, unless of course they are the kind of restaurants that already have a bit of UK accent.
Pasta and Christmas? Well yes very much so. Italians celebrate Christmas Eve traditionally with seafood, but on Christmas Day pasta is in abundance usually using rich ingredients.
Pastaio, the no frills pasta-place of Stevie Parle has grown some branches since it first started near Oxford Circus, but as we’re based in Soho it was the Carnaby outlet where we went to sample the Xmas specials one lunchtime.
A freezing cold day, but warm and steamy and welcoming inside the canteen-like interior of Pastaio with appropriately socially distanced seating.Well kind of warm, one of the staff is constantly popping in and out to bring in bits of some kind of display he’s busy dismantling near our table.
I didn’t mind the dismantling so much as the freezing blasts of air every few minutes.
You’d not think a slushy was what you might want on a cold day, rather perverse it might even seem, but we tried the Xmas specials anyway – mandarin and a clementine Prosecco slushie.Rather good actually, you could really taste the citrus fruits and not too brain-freezing cold either.
We order some’Nduja devils on horseback’ to nibble on but they appear with the first courses as they are classed as anti-pasti, so we don’t quite know what to do with them. So, we eat them along with what I classify as the starters.Both sweet and fiery at the same time they make a change from the usual devils. Bit too sweet for me, though to be honest.
Anyway, true Christmas starter ahoy and it’s Burrata, Brussel sprouts, hazelnuts, Pastaio Olive oil, The sprouts are raw and shredded, which in fact is not a bad way to deal with sprouts, although they can be a bit crunchy and slightly bitter. I would personally either briefly blanch them or swiftly stir fry.
In this case though the texture and taste work pretty well with the very good, very creamy burrata. A hit of pepperiness from the olive oil and some sweet crunch from the nuts makes for good mouthfuls.
P has the Squash caponata, tomato, garlic, olives, pine nuts and mint. Not very Instagrammable, but Italian food rarely is, it comes from a time when taste was more important than looks. My kind of time.
The other Christmassy dish is Goose ragu, brandy, red wine, juniper, mafaldine. I love a ragu, perhaps because my first ever foreign food was spaghetti bolognese, cooked by my mother one day in the early 1970s after she’d got the recipe from an Italian work colleague. What a revelation after steak and kidney pie twice a week.
Of course Italians know a heavy ragu needs a bigger pasta than spaghetti, but my mother and most brits don’t believe that. Pastaio does though and mafaldine, a wide ribbon pasta with curly edges is perfect.
Goose is a real Christmas meat, I prefer it to turkey. It makes a marvellous ragu, dense and flavourful and the hints of juniper are very festive. I’m as stuffed as Santa’s sack by the end of it, and as happy as an elf with an extra day off.
I’m persuaded to try a bit of P’s dish – Winter chanterelles, King oyster mushrooms, garlic and white wine, tagliatelle,One of Pastaio’s standard dishes, its simplicity is its strength.
Slippery egg pasta run through with slinky fungi that’s just cooked off to retain some bite. The sort of dish you always hope for when in Italy, but don’t always get.
We finished up with a Panettone bread pudding, a lot lighter in weight than traditional bread pudding and lighter on the currants too, which was fine as we were both a bit weighed down by now.
Pastaio is a perfect place for some refuel while Xmas shopping; so near to everything but at the same time slightly off the beaten track.
Airy and spacious inside for Covid worriers, it also has heated eating space outside if you prefer.
I doubt Santa could get the sleigh airborne after a meal here though, probably curl up in the corner for a kip.