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Pasta: This time it’s serious

It’s the staple found in almost every kitchen across the UK. Whether we call them by their proper names, or the widely accepted descriptors, of twists, shells and bow-ties, pasta has become an everyday ingredient, but one that hasn’t necessarily got the credit it deserves. But pasta is the base ingredient that’s getting a huge amount of attention of late. The ‘do one thing, and one thing very, very, well’ mantra has hit a stride with the Italian noodle.
The thing is, pasta has become massively overlooked and an ingredient that’s fallen by the wayside while trends for gourmet burgers, ramen, pho, bao buns and a long line of region-specific Asian street foods have taken centre stage. The Italian mainstay that’s been a part of the British pantry for so long has in fact, become the underdog. But everyone loves an underdog.
New York’s Del Posto could easily be credited with being ground zero for the new wave of restaurants dedicated to pasta. Self described as the ‘richest and most refined creation of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’, the restaurant has become a modern icon in the New York food landscape, but also a business model that proves how far, and how high-end the simple pasta dish can be taken. I mean, let’s face it, the margins on pasta dishes are notoriously good for restaurateurs and if you can make it your crowning glory, the one thing you pride yourself on doing well, then you’re onto a winner.
Both stateside and here at home, pasta has been the focus of hot new restaurant openings. London’s Padella near Borough Market has done well in this scene and last year won Observer Food Monthly’s ‘Best Cheap Eats’ award as well as the Evening Standard’s ‘Worth The Queue’. Here the chefs create a bit of theatre during the day hand rolling pasta in the window; fettuccine, tagliatelle, pappardelle. Perhaps what has made this place so instantly likeable – which translates in this case to successful, is the attention to detail given to what is so often just a vessel for other flavours.
At Padella, just like in other modern pasta joints here and in the US, simple, but high quality ingredients are used alongside. Think simple goats curd within large raviolis, chicken liver and wild mushrooms, or the fiercely spicy spreadable salami known as n’duja.
For a long time many diners, particularly those narky ‘millennials’, tend not to order pasta dishes because, hey, I can make that at home. But perhaps this is largely due to the fact so many mediocre pasta dishes have been punted out in restaurants across the UK. With renewed enthusiasm from the kitchen and a conscious effort to relay this focus to the diner, there’s potential for solid pasta specialist restaurants to thrive.
Hard-nosed attention to detail is imperative though. If you go down this road, talking up your pasta dishes and making them the main event requires you to excel in this field. Sloppiness is not an option and the ingredients you bring in must compliment them and highlight dedication to the seasons at every turn. Perhaps the take home here is not to water down your pasta offering by trying to be all things to all people, particularly with the diversity of Italian food. It can be a bold and brave move to offer a menu that offers pasta but not pizza, but one that could pay off.