What to Order at London’s Best Pasta Restaurants
London has significantly upped its pasta game. There are some really fine examples around at the moment, from slippery spaghetti to plump, rich tortelloni. It’s the kind of pasta that makes you greedily slurp every last bite, only to start eyeing up your mate’s portion, then the bowl on the table next to you.
What’s more, pasta got classy. We have a certain fondness for the old-school Italian restaurant; the kind with chequered red and white tablecloths and giant peppermills, but we are also 100% behind the handcrafted, seasonal, expertly seasoned plates we’ve seen appearing in the last few years.
We have choices that stretch beyond bolognese, pesto or the creamy carbonara that would make nonna roll her eyes and start waving the rolling pin. These are some of the regional specialities you can find in London’s best pasta restaurants.
Marcella has been making waves down in Deptford for a while now. Our reviewer Chris Pople said the pasta is ‘ is worth the journey out to SE8 and then some’ which is more or less meaningful depending on how close you are to Deptford. Just know that it is excellent pasta. It’s run by the guys behind Artusi, FYI, which is another great Italian – this time in Peckham – doing lovely things with dough.
Order: Spaghetti con aglio, olio, peperoncino
Where’s it from? Rome
This is spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chilli, and it’s one of the simplest and most satisfying pasta dishes in existence. The success of the dish rests entirely on the quality of the ingredients, of course, so it’s essential to use the best pasta and the finest olive oil. No problem here.
It’s known as a late-night staple thanks to its simplicity; you can come home from a night of dancing and knock this together from bits and pieces in the store cupboard, hopefully staving off any chances of a hangover. Or, you could just go to Marcella and order it because it’s a bit like a sandwich: simple to make but so much better when someone else does it for you.
Marcella, 165A Deptford High Street, SE8 3NU
Luca is a very tasteful Italian restaurant from the people behind The Clove Club, which is consistently voted one of the best restaurants in the world. At Luca, they use British produce but Italian cooking techniques so you get the best of the seasons with all of the smooth Italian technique.
Order: Pumpkin agnolotti with chestnut and sage
Where’s it from? Piedmont
Agnolotti are rectangular or square filled pasta parcels which are folded over a filling – in this case, pumpkin. They’re often dressed in a simple sauce of sage and butter but obviously, the Luca guys have gussied things up a bit with other flavours. Agnolotti are traditionally made with a meat filling but c’mon, we don’t like to be sticklers. Food police, be gone.
Their pasta dough is rich with organic egg yolk, so it’s a gorgeous yellow colour. The dough is left to rest overnight before it’s folded and rolled ready for the Delica pumpkin and roast chestnut filling to be piped onto the sheets.
Luca, 88 St John Street, EC1M 4EH
Padella was one of the hottest openings of 2016 – not bad going for a little pasta joint. It’s casual; the kind of place you rock up on a whim, gobble a couple of plates and then zip off into the night in search of your next Negroni except, you can’t turn up on a whim because everyone knows about it.
You need to turn up at like, 2.30pm when everyone else has had their lunch otherwise you’ll be queuing for an hour, getting all hangry. It’s worth the hassle, though. They make all the pasta fresh each day, rolling it out in the window before service. You gotta love that theatre.
Order: Pici cacio e pepe
Where’s it from? Rome
They dig their simple classics in Rome, don’t they? This is another three ingredient wonder, made with black pepper, Pecorino and pasta. Oh ok, and some pasta cooking water. They make it at Padella with pici, which is a sort of thick, unevenly rolled spaghetti; a wiggly tangle on the plate.
The cool thing about this dish is that it’s all in the method — pepper and cheese is mixed with a little of the pasta cooking water to make a paste and then more is gradually added until finally the pasta is tossed furiously until every strand is coated. A bad cacio e pepe has clumps. Padella’s is a smooth as the hazelnut praline ice cream you’ll be ordering for pudding.
Padella, 6 Southwark Street, SE1 1TQ
This is the predecessor to Padella, so you just know the pasta is going to be good. Trullo is a place with bags of confidence, class and understated style. It’s perfect pasta territory, basically.
Order: Pappardelle with beef shin ragu
Where’s it from? Emilia Romagna
Ragu is a dish consumed all over Italy and there are many regional variations, with striking differences in preparations in the north and south. Emilia Romagna is its birthplace, yet even there two people will rarely agree on the best way to make the dish. Does it contain pure pork or beef? A mixture? Does it contain red wine, or white? It’s a complex dish with a rich history and Trullo’s 8-hour version is brilliant, traditional or not. The pasta is also rolled minutes before service.
Trullo, 300-302 St Paul’s Rd, Highbury East, N1 2LH
Angela Hartnett is behind this duo of restaurants which focus on Northern Italian cuisine. We love the Covent Garden branch and although the whole restaurant invites you to nuzzle up to its tightly stretched apron-strings, we often sit at the bar to hoover up a plate or two of perfect pasta. There’s also a Cafe Murano Pastificio, where you can buy handmade pasta to take home. Why stop eating pasta when you don’t have to? A mantra to live by.
Order: Orecchiette with broccoli, chilli and garlic
Where’s it from? Apulia
The name orecchiette comes from the Italian word, orecchia, meaning ‘ear’ – you can see why when you look at their shape. This is one of the most satisfying pasta shapes of all if you ask us, as the cup-shaped shells catch all the lovely bits of flavour hanging out in the bowl.
Cafe Murano, 36 Tavistock Street, WC2E 7PB; 33 St James’s Street, SW1A 1HD
La Tua Pasta
La Tua Pasta differs from the other places on this list in that they only make pasta and they’re a market stall, rather than a restaurant. You’ll need to head to the Borough Market or Broadway Market stalls to get the hot pasta, which is great because it’s produced overnight and sold the next day, with none held back so you know it’s super fresh, every time.
Where’s it from? Emilia Romagna, Lombardy
Fillings vary for these folded parcels (larger versions of tortellini) but they’re commonly filled with spinach and ricotta. The founder of La Tua Pasta, Francesco Boggian, learned the art of pasta making from his grandmother. All ingredients are chosen for the fillings at 5am each day at New Covent Garden Market before being prepped and stuffed into the pasta by hand.
La Tua Pasta, 6 Southwark Street, SE1 1TL, or Broadway Market, E8 4QJ