‘All day fresh pasta places from British chef Stevie Parle. We use top-notch British and Italian produce to create delicious, great value fresh pasta plates carefully made on-site every day by our devoted team of pastai.
We don’t take reservations and use a virtual queue system when the restaurant is full. If there’s no table available when you arrive then leave us your details and go for a quick drink and we’ll text when your table is ready.
Please note that during the evening we only seat tables in-full or allocate a group to the queue when all guests are present.’
I guess it’s bad luck that brings us to the Westfield branch of Pastaio (other branches are in Soho and Market Hall in Oxford Street). I know the gargantuan temple of Mammon is heaven on earth to many a West Londoner (and indeed several of my esteemed WLL colleagues), but to me, it’s closer to hell and I have managed thus far to avoid it.
It takes about 20 minutes to negotiate our way through the freezing Titanic thing, past endless, echoing, draughty parades of excess (even a car showroom FFS), eyes on stalks in increasing disbelief at the sheer nauseating scale of it, past endless middle-high end restaurant chains (Oaxaca, Byron Burgers, the Real Greek, Dirty Vegan – all empty, which seems to validate our question ‘why would anybody choose to go out to dinner in a shopping centre?’), until at long last, having asked at least four different security guards for directions, we stumble on our quarry.
And guess what? On a Monday night in February, it’s absolutely packed, with a buzzing, happy atmosphere, achingly on-trend background music (you can download its Spotify playlist from the website) and a funky, modern interior. One wall has a multi-coloured geometric mural, a bit Mondrian, another’s adorned with neon pink signage spelling out ‘LOVE PASTAIO.’
We’re seated at a long, slightly cramped, refectory-style table lined with industrial-looking stoppered bottles (doubtless recycled) of tap water and served immediately by an extremely friendly hipster chap with requisite face fuzz, tattoos and one of those faintly sick-making earrings that stretches a big hole in your earlobe.
Where have they all come from, these chirpy chattering millennials with their bright eyes, healthy complexions and plenty to discuss in myriad languages? They seem a jolly-ish bunch, maybe some students, a large group of Chinese to our left, to our right a couple of terribly well-spoken girls who can’t have been long out of school. Further down the table, what looks like a mother/daughter (possibly grandmother/granddaughter) pair. Anyway, Pastaio is clearly doing something right as its upbeat, zeitgeisty buzz couldn’t be a more striking contrast to its legions of mournful, desolate competitors.
And what it’s doing right (aside from ticking all the current modish boxes) is, largely, the food. The menu (there’s a vegan and gluten-free one on offer, natch) is short and succinct, one sheet of recycled paper, divided into antipasti, pasta and desserts. All the pasta is home-made on-site, all the ingredients impeccably chosen and sourced.
My starter of ‘beef carpaccio, 30 month Parmesan, Pastaio 2019 olive oil’ (£9) is melt-in-the-mouth tender, delicately marbled, thin, translucent slices of tasty ruby-red beef, slivers of tangy, mature cheese, fruity olive oil: sublime.
Andy’s ‘shaved fennel & blood orange, flat-leaf parsley, pomegranate & Taggiasca olives’ (£8) is zesty, vibrant, a perfect light choice before his ‘8-hour beef & porcini bolognese, tagliatelle’ (£14), an extremely generous portion of rich, meaty ragu, deeply flavoured – although his one criticism is that he can’t taste the porcini.
My ‘vongole linguine, garlic, chilli, capers & anchovies’ (£16.50) is pretty much my desert island pasta dish, and here it’s done perfectly, silky al dente pasta, sweet, toothsome clams, a wonderful sea-fresh salinity. I clean my plate.
Andy’s notes on his tiramisu (£6) say ‘classic, no-frills but delicious’, which pretty much says it all; though my ‘almond & pear tart, creme fraiche’ (£7) takes things up a notch – light buttery pastry, slightly fudgy ground almonds, sweet pear, served warm. Really very yummy indeed.
From today to the 24th February Pastaio is offering a special Valentine’s Day meal, sweetly inspired by Disney classic The Lady & The Tramp – a sharing bowl (for 2 or 3) of spaghetti with slow-cooked tomato sauce (San Marzano tomatoes) and meatballs made with pork, beef, veal, chicken livers & sage (£30). I imagine it’s just as a delicious as everything else on offer – though I wouldn’t fancy my chances trying to slurp my way through a shared bowl of pasta in the close confines of the tightly packed refectory table.
Drinks are listed on the same sheet of paper as the food, divided into Sparkling (#ProseccoSlushy), Cocktails (a short list, including, of course, Aperol Spritz and Negroni), five whites and five reds. We go for our habitual bottle of Pinot Grigio (£30) but feel somewhat in the minority as all around us the fresh-faced millennials are sticking to tap water. And maybe this is one of the keys to Pastaio’s (pretty much instant) success – if not bumping the price up with booze it’s perfectly possible to have an extremely good three-course meal here for around £25 a head, under a tenner if you choose carefully and stick to one course. And the youthful, vibrant surroundings really are very agreeable – by the end of our meal I had almost forgotten we were in the monolithic hellhole of Westfield.