Westfield London, W12
There is, apparently, much to loathe about Westfield, west London’s gleaming monolithic temple to Mammon. The dead-eyed, zombie-like consumption, the rapt and rabid consumerism, the dentist-bright lighting and the profusion of bland international chains. ‘The destroyer of high streets,’ they say, ‘where good taste comes to die.’
But I love the place. This is my land, my manor, my delight, and I tramp those polished floors with all the vigour and devotion of a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago trail. There’s Vue, of course, with its Xtreme screens, 4K projection and Nacho Libre hot dogs. Then HMV, the last of a dying breed, to find my strange and obscure horror DVDs. And Apple, for your every beautifully designed, over-priced need.
Pastaio in west London’s Westfield is cheerfully industrial and oozing pure, unfiltered hospitality
When it comes to the food, though, I’m less than enamoured. Byron has gone from great to eminently forgettable in just a few years. As has Tapas Revolution. Nando’s never lets you down, but there’s an eternal queue. You’ll find some disappointing tacos, a just-about-sippable pho, sub-par dim sum, soporific Thai. And Bill’s. Which leaves only Comptoir Libanais, Japan Centre and Pizza Pilgrims to stand out among the legions of the drearily mediocre.
So the arrival of Pastaio, the third branch of Stevie Parle’s much-loved fresh pasta restaurant, is something to celebrate. On a dull, damp Wednesday evening, it’s a warm respite from the chilly deluge – loud, bustling, cheerfully industrial and oozing pure, unfiltered hospitality. Naughty By Nature, Blondie and Bowie blare from the speakers, and the tables, both communal and separate, are filled with a mix of friends, families and solo eaters.
Prices are at the sharper end of the mid-market, a brutal battleground at the best of times, but there’s nothing average about Pastaio. It’s the little touches that impress. The fat slice of blood orange in Freddy’s orangeade (San Pellegrino, of course), and the sheer quality of the ricotta salata, all low ovine bleat, in a bracingly crisp raw red cabbage and brussels sprout salad. The dressing is bold and sharp, the hazelnuts freshly roasted.
Burrata is properly fresh, with true lactic bite, and wonderfully bitter curls of Treviso, lavished with decent olive oil, and balsamic vinegar that doesn’t actually strip the skin from the roof of my mouth. I’m usually allergic to the stuff but after tonight’s dinner may have to give it another chance. Pert green olives wallow in a harissa sauce that is a touch benign. Although this is the Sicilian, rather than North African, version. Where things are a little more polite.
Then pasta, freshly made and alluringly silken. Carbonara, as good as I’ve eaten anywhere, studded with slivers of crisp guanciale, the emulsified sauce clinging lasciviously to half tubes of al dente tonnarelli. This joyously simple union of eggs, pig and Pecorino has an authentically Roman peppery blast, and a robust salinity too. I’ll be back for more.
Freddy devours vongole, generous with the clams, the linguine coated in a gently restrained liquor. ‘One of the best,’ he says, sucking up the last strand. ‘I like this place.’ We also try beef and porcini Bolognese, simmered for eight hours, and gently scented with spice. Again, the linguine is exceptional, the splendidly rich sauce bursting with slow-cooked aplomb.
You certainly won’t leave here hungry. Or unhappy. Because Pastaio is as big-hearted as it is generous, many miles removed from the centralised, cynical corporate likes of Zizzi and Ask
Three different plates of pasta is one plate too many. I just about manage to finish it all, but then I’m a greedy sod. With a quick-release belt buckle and an ever-expanding gut.
You certainly won’t leave here hungry. Or unhappy. Because Pastaio is as big-hearted as it is generous, many miles removed from the centralised, cynical corporate likes of Zizzi and Ask. In a time of mid-market carnage, Pastaio shines.
If I were Parle, I’d roll it out like 30 egg yolk tagliolini. Cheap at the price, expertly executed, and brimming with genuine good cheer. Pastaio burns bright.
About £20 per head