Mhhh pasta! Does it make you think of those mega value fusilli bags from Sainsbury’s that got you through the final few weeks of your student loan? Or the ropey lasagne you once had during that family trip to the local Italian restaurant that still has the same tablecloths from 1976?
Well, good job that the boys from Pasta Loco are here! Your perception of pasta is about to be forever changed.
Ben and Dominic have been on fine form serving great dishes at the Cafe Mulino pop-up in St Werburghs. They’ve now set camp on Cotham Hill with their new restaurant: Pasta Loco.
When you first step into the restaurant, you’ll see that it is fairly small and informal, with a simple modern decor of grey and unstained wood – tables line one wall whilst compact wooden booths for up to 4 people line the other. Beyond the bar you can see into the bustling kitchen, where the day’s pasta was made only hours before.
We were welcomed by Dominic who showed us to our table and talked excitedly about the evening’s menu, which is reassuringly short and concise (I’m terrible at making decisions).
To start we opted for crispy fried ox tongue with sauce gribiche (a sort of pickled mayonnaise/remoulade sauce with capers & gherkins), and the Venetian salt cod with focaccia croutons, bell peppers, aged balsamic and basil, which sounded lovely and fresh. Seeing as we were going with some quite punchy starters, we also ordered the Ruffino Chianti, which got an enthusiastic nod of agreement from Dominic.
Our first courses came plated simply and a decent size. Dominic was quick to tell us that they’re keen to balance portions in the restaurant. They like to encourage customers to try something from all 3 courses rather than be weighed down by one bowl of pasta.
The ox tongue was nice and meaty! 3 chunky discs covered in a nice crunchy breadcrumb, the dish balanced nicely with the fresh and tangy gribiche. The salt cod was surprisingly light with the small pieces of toasted bread, zingy peppers and basil dressing. It was a good start, really nicely complimented by the ridiculously tasty (connoisseurs tasting notes) Chianti. On to the mains!
First to arrive was my carbonara with pork belly and a lardo-wrapped poached egg. I know, I know – AN EGG WRAPPED IN BACON, it’s pure genius!
The sauce was thinner than I’m used to with a carbonara. This meant it didn’t feel too rich after a whole plateful (especially alongside the pork belly and bacon-y egg).
Next up was the gnocchi with lamb and salsa verde. Now, usually, I’m one to avoid gnocchi. In the past, I’ve found them to be too dense and tough, like little balls of plasticine with a gloopy tomato sauce on top. Not these. These were light wee puffs of joy in a finely balanced, minty salsa verde, with a smattering of pull-apart lamb. Suffice to say, I’m now a gnocchi convert! I told the Pasta Loco team as much, repeatedly (the Chianti was working its magic by this point).
Mains consumed, we were feeling fairly conquered. However, Dominic was insistent that we tried their desserts. So, I opted for their Mediterranean-style cheeseboard of Comté with truffle honey (unnnnf), fig cake and pan carasau (a sort of crispbread). My dining companion chose the Chambord, stracciatella semifreddo and almond biscotti.
It took us quite a while to work through our desserts seeing as we were already so full. The Comté with truffle honey was particularly lovely. What’s more, the semifreddo was a light enough choice to end a surprisingly hefty meal!
We left Pasta Loco full, and very merry – the latter due to both that lush Chianti and the friendly, enthusiastic service from Dominic and his team. I’m already looking forward to my next visit, where I’m also hoping to work my way through their cocktails.
With such a talented bunch in the kitchen and a joyful crew out front, it’s hard to see why Pasta Loco won’t thrive! Bringing a new style of neighbourhood Italian restaurants into fashion, I can’t wait to see what they do next.
Pasta Loco: 37A Cotham Hill, Bristol BS6 6JY, http://pastaloco.co.uk/