I only started ordering pasta in restaurants around 5 years ago. Why? Because over the years, I’d clearly been frequenting some shocking Italian restaurants, thinking I was Barry Big B******s because I was dining out.
I remember when it all changed, however. This joint isn’t on the list because recently I went back to the scene of the beautiful crime and I was devastated to see that the friendly Italian man who used to give me free slithers of cheese as I waited for him to cook the best goddamn ragu I had ever tasted, had gone. Arguably the best ragu anyone would ever taste (even my mate in Melbourne who visited a few years ago still tells me she’s trying to recreate it) is now a distant memory. Finito. Kaput.
Anyway, why dwell on the past when you can so easily look to the ever so tasty future? I have compiled my top 5 for now, although this will likely grow as I make my way around more restaurants once full Covid restrictions have eased.
Here goes, in order of favourite:
The Fish Cafe, Hampstead
My boyfriend’s mate and food loving rapper Sonny Jim stumbled upon this when walking his dog in Hampstead a few years ago. Back then it was very much a no frills establishment – at the front of the shop stood a fish & chip counter, wander behind however and you found a nautical style dining room. We had a fair few boozy pasta sessions here. Once I fell off my chair into the middle of the floor, a giggling mess, but the head waiter or who I have often assumed is the owner, smiled and helped me up – what service.
What I adore about this place is that they make their own pasta fresh and serve it with the best seafood I’ve ever had in a pasta dish… in London anyway. What’s more is they serve half bottles of very good wine, perfect for when you dine alone, or don’t fancy getting blotto at dinner all the time… which I don’t.
Since I started going, they have had a refurb, which in my opinion took away a bit of the charm, but they are still making utterly banging pasta. There is still a fish & chip shop at the front of the restaurant, so don’t be alarmed when you see it. A bonus is there is also a little terrace out front, so you can bask in the sun all you like.
Osteria Basilico, Notting Hill
Now, if you’re looking for all the bells and whistles and excellent service with a smile, this place isn’t for you. However, do not be put off… it might take a couple of asks to get your bread, or your bill, but the pasta… ohhhhh the pasta… more than makes up for it. Even the warm pillowy mini bread rolls with oil and balsamic make up for it alone. As this restaurant is in Notting Hill, one of the UK’s most prestigious addresses, expect to see the odd famous face sitting in the window. If they’re not famous, they’re certainly well heeled.
It may not be on the usual lists, but this place is famous in its own right and is very well known in the West London world. If you don’t live anywhere near, as I didn’t when I used to frequent, it is well worth the trip. You can tie it in with a trip to the world famous Portobello Market if you like, just make sure you work up a hunger first!
Address: 29 Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill Gate, London, W11 2EU
Instagram: They clearly don’t need one
You can’t get more authentic than Tarantella. It’s a blink and you miss it type place – tiny inside. It isn’t the most comfortable or glamorous restaurant – pretty uncomfortable wooden furniture, but most of my favourite restaurants (when it comes to food) have been like this. There is a cute little mezzanine level at the top and a couple of tables right in front of the open kitchen.
The food? Yet again, all homemade on site. The chef was rolling and cutting the pasta as we walked in and I’m pretty sure he used the same batch to cook our lunch. The menu is small, but in my experience the best restaurants I’ve been to have the smallest menus – it allows them to focus on making the dishes just right for punters like me and you. The wine list is just as small, but there are definitely some Italian gems to sink your teeth into.
Bancone, Covent Garden
This is 100% on the usual lists. And for good reason. The pasta is freshly made on the premises and is extremely well priced. There are two outposts – one in Covent Garden and one in Golden Square. I have only been to the former and absolutely love the fact it has bar seating, so you can watch the chefs rather than having to listen to your boring date banging on about something inane.
Jokes aside, this place is known for the silk handkerchiefs, walnut butter & confit egg yolk (YUM!) but my fav was the rosemary & bay braised rabbit with tagliatelle. It is one of those places where you could happily finish a dish and order two more because you just want to try EVERYTHING the chefs have to offer.
Bocca di Lupo, Soho
What’s not to like of a restaurant whose tagline is ‘for when you’re hungry like the wolf?’ Bocca di Lupo opened in Soho over a decade ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. Almost as much as I remember the opening of the amazing sister gelato restaurant, Gelupo, which is situated right opposite. This to me was back when Soho was at its prime in terms of restaurant openings. This, along with Polpo and Spuntino, were some of my favourite haunts.
A decade later though and the pasta game at Bocca di Lupo is still strong. One of the things I love about this menu is that despite a small range of pastas, they’re all banging and you’re told what region they’re from. The menu changes once a week to keep in line with seasonality, which I love – because you’re always likely to be able to try something new.