400 miles for spaghetti? Damn right!!!
2:30am on a cold Wednesday morning, we’re heading off by car in search of perfect pasta in London Town.
Our departure time is designed to miss the rush hours of Manchester, Birmingham and London. We do not too badly until the M6 comes to a complete standstill in both directions, a power cable has fallen across both carriageways resulting in queues in each direction stretching for miles. We were delayed for over an hour. Despite 3 double espressos and 3 cans of Red Bull I managed to close my eyes for the stationary period.
It’s full blown pishing it down as we walk along Oxford Street from Marble Arch to Oxford Circus, I’m forced to buy an umbrella for £5 from a barrow boy, on our way to Vapiano on Great Portland Street. It’s an impressive venue and an equally impressive business, absolutely pumping at lunch time. We haven’t eaten since, what seems like a week ago, a pit stop at a motorway service station though sadly not Tebay, ravenous, we order four bowls between three of us. It’s hot, it’s filling and has some taste but this is not the holy grail of spaghetti. I award them the title of McPasta for that’s as good as it gets. The pasta was chewy, not as in al dente, just chewy. The sauces uninspired. Would I go back? MMMMM, I wouldn’t go out of my way, under the same circumstances, tired – cold – wet -starving, if I was passing and nothing better within reach I probably would.
Things can only get better, and believe me they did.
There’s a truly delightful, tiny pasta restaurant in Shoreditch. In fact there is just about every kind of everything in Shoreditch, what a cultured and creative part of East London this is. I’ve never seen so many woolly chins in my life, it’s like mid-century hipster-town.
We are a little cheeky!!! We have enrolled in a ‘pasta workshop’, not telling them we are blogging chefs and capable of filling a damn fine ravioli.
Burro e Salvia serve their fabulous pastas in a shop no bigger than a quail’s egg. I think they can seat twelve, thirteen on Good Friday. When you enter there’s a lovely retail shop where they sell their freshly made pastas, vac packed sauces, tomatoes and olive oils to the trendy indigenous population on their way home after a hard day on Instagram.
Our sfoglina Oliver is a most helpful and knowledgable young man. Indeed everyone working here seems to have come from an Italian charm school. We are led into the dining room where tables are arranged with everything we will need for tonight’s workshop. Flour, eggs, pasta rolling machines, the little wooden boards called pettines with their tiny rolling pins used to make Garganelli and the large wooden boards which give pasta a textured surface texture when its worked on it.
“You are going to make tagliatelle, farfalle and garganelli” Oliver announces, and he adds, he is going to award the table with the best pasta the champion’s title. My eyes flash over to my fellow flour strewn chums saying without words, “we win or you die.” We won….they didn’t die.
It was a really enjoyable experience, we had a terrific night - even learning some techniques, as well as a lot of laughs. We highly recommend this experience to anyone with a passion for pasta or not.
The evening’s best was yet to come. Our farfalle was whisked away to the kitchen to be boiled then tossed in their incredibly delicious tomato sauce. Tagliatelle with their very meaty ragu was put in front of us too as was the creamiest Burrata with San Daniele ham. Simple but fit for a king, this is for me what Italian food is all about. No foam of worm spit caressing the air dried sphincter of a still throbbing Wilde Beast on a bed of deconstructed Peruvian goat’s keech. One of the least fussy yet most satisfying dining experiences I’ve had in eons.
Our super long day was taking its toll. Our plans for a midnight shawarma in the magnificent Café Helen on Edgware Road were abandoned, we headed back to our hotel. I have heard a whisper that my gourmand companions nipped out for a wee swally, or a least a carry out, to round off their night. Young Turks.
It’s Thursday morning and the rain persists in falling. We’re not deterred, Borough Market is in our sights, we are going to Padella. I have eaten there before, I love it. You can’t book, you queue. I think we stood for about thirty minutes, maybe even forty, salivating over our eagerly anticipated lunch. We got seats at the bar with the best view into the open kitchen. We had the bread, olives, bruschetta with chopped chicken liver, black pepper salami and burrata all the way from Wiltshire. I love watching the faces of others as they eat well and are obviously enjoying every morsel. This was that moment.
We then ordered six bowls of pasta between us; tagliarini with garlic chilli and anchovy, spinach ravioli filled with Westcombe ricotta, pappardelle with an eight hour cooked Dexter beef shin ragu, duck mezzaluna with sage butter, tagliarini with Dorset crab and fettuccine with Coble Lane guanciale carbonara. For me the beef shin ragu and spinach ravioli stood out, truth be told there wasn’t a weak dish among them. The anchovy plate was a little too ‘fishy’ for me but I have a thing about anchovies, I love the salty ‘hairy’ fillets in olive oil, either cold or as part of a hot dish. Equally I’m as fond of the pickled silver skinned chaps when served as tapas. The pickled ones I’m not wild about in warm dishes. This is simply my preference.
Again, as we experienced the night before, the serving staff and chefs in front of us were professional, welcoming and smiling. Not from Fort William then….
For dessert we wander around Borough Market eating sea urchin and oysters from an unbelievably enthusiastic fish vendor, cheese and chocolate at different stands, sampling olive oil, balsamic vinegars of various vintages, soft fruit and dates. It’s not so long since this was simply a trade only fruit market. I preferred buying my fruit and veg from the dealers here rather than in New Covent Garden back in the days when I fed the cast and crew from many amazing feature films. At least they were grateful for the business and always happy to recommend whatever was the pick of the day. All the trade stands I once dealt with have now gone with the exception of Turnips, run to this day by Fred. Turnips has a vast selection of colourful produce, quite remarkable and very tempting. Best wait until you’ve eaten before meandering through the various stalls. The cheese, breads, hams, sausages, pies, fish, meat and plants will have you filling bags as you drool.
Mere mortals would by this point be in a food coma, slumped in a undignified heap unable to continue. Not us, we are on a mission, more pasta.
Two days before heading South I had a chance meeting with a friend who gave me the details of another Italian restaurant in Shoreditch, damn hipsters have got it all. Via Emilia prepares the produce of Emilia-Romagna, the food valley of northern Italy. Parma ham, Fresh Egg Pasta, Mortadella, Tortellini, Lasagne, Provolone, Parmigiano, Coppa, Pancetta, Culatello, Cotechino, Squacquerone, Olive Oil and lets not forget the wonderful meaty ragu – Bolognese, all originate in this Garden of Eden. These are just a handful of the gems from the region.
We were being joined by friends for this final dinner, and boy we ate like Italian royalty. The Gnocco Fritto, little pillows of fried bread were “wow.” These were served with the cheeses, Caciotta, Parmigiano and the soft creamy Squacquerone as well as Parma ham, Mortadella, Coppa and salami Felino. We could have stopped there but we didn’t.
On the advice of the head man we let them feed us with their star dishes. The Cacio e Pepe, a simple but inspired plate of tagliolini with pecorino cheese and pepper was right up my street. Pisarei e Fasò, little wheat gnocchi with tomato sauce and Borlotti beans, delicious. Tagliatelle ragu was magnificent, not the usual offering of a watery tomato sauce ‘minced up’ as we might say north of Hadrian’s Wall. Finally little squares of ravioli filled with spinach, ricotta and Parmigiano, ooft.
With only a little space left we set about the ‘Light Tiramisu’, not sure after all we had eaten in just over twenty four hours if it was light enough but I really enjoyed it. There was talk at the table that it wasn’t as good as Nina’s Tiramisu, I will have to get back to you on that as to date she’s never made it for me although she bakes extremely good bread.
I’m in the kitchen talking to Jessica, the chef, she’s lovely and very, very good.
I need to get back to the hotel and try to work up my breakfast appetite. For the record I was successful in this mission.
We are heading home on the Friday but first we visit my daughter, son-in-law and grandson, Carly, Greg and Finn. Carly suggests she visits her local Italian deli for our brunch, nooooooooo. We say we will wander around Selfridges’ stunning foodhall and pick up consumables from more out Lebanon way. Good shout, we needed a little pasta detox.
The drive home was shite, rerouted off the motorway for almost forty miles it took over nine hours, my arse was numb by the time I crawled into bed.
I must thank Kyle and Audrius for their company, understanding, chat, jokes and opinions but mostly the laughs throughout the entire trip, let’s do it again soon. Steven, Sharon, Ken and Nina we hope you enjoyed dinner and thank you for travelling out east to join us.
Burro e Salvia, Padella and Via Emilia sei tutto favoloso!!!!!