Pasta Loco has secured its position as one of the most exciting and impressive restaurants in the city, writes Stacey Black
Along Cotham Hill, just out of the way of the bustling city, you’ll find a row of offbeat shops, sun-dappled beer gardens and a cluster of incredible eateries. Proudly sitting smack in the centre of this assortment of restaurants is Pasta Loco. The name of this place has been familiar to me for a while now; cropping up in my periphery via national critics, social media and my foodie friends alike, so my visit was well overdue.
After a quick visit to a nearby pub garden on a sizzling midweek evening, we headed to Pasta Loco. We arrived at a small but smart space, airy with big bi-folding doors onto the street, and a cool vibe that promised the food to follow would be something special. Taking our place at a table alongside the bar, we could enjoy the view of the trendy room, with its framed prints on the walls and wooden-pallet installation on the ceiling. This restaurant is all about proper Italian hospitality, and co-owners Dominic Borell and cousin Ben Harvey have worked hard to make every visit a welcoming experience. Almost immediately, Dominic was heading our way with two glasses of bubbly in hand. I liked this place already.
The list of dishes is short(ish), punchy and reads like no Italian menu I’ve seen before. Kholrabi bhajis on beetroot borani with feta and pomegranate sit alongside lamb kofta with cucumber raita, aubergine pickle, flatbread and hazelnut dukkha. And those are just to start. Mains are dishes such as casarecce in black truffle, porcini and stilton, and gnocchi in an aged ox shin ragu.
Being an accommodating fellow, Dominic was unfazed by my decision to ditch the cheese, and suggested the caponata as my starter, and the Cornish crab for my partner. Caponata is one my favourite things to cook at home, and I can’t say I’ve ever been able to create the kinds of flavours that were present in this dish. A Sicilian staple, this little mound of deep-red aubergine sauce, topped with a handful of pine nuts blew my mind. Sweet, sour and sharp with capers, and topped with crunchy pasta fritti, my own creation will forever taste bland after this. The next day, I made a sneaky attempt at getting the recipe. I was, quite rightly, gently rebuffed.
My partner’s Cornish crab and pecorino sardo with mint, broad beans and bottarga was just as good. His was the polar opposite to mine – creamy, cheese-salty and fresh from the mint that cut through the savoury roe. There was a nice mix of contrasting textures from the toasted breadcrumbs and the smooth meat of the crab, too.
Mains were similarly a revelation. I was offered a bespoke pasta dish, and where better to go a little off-piste? Landing at my table with an enthusiastic “BOOM!”, was a creation I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Fresh and perfectly cooked ferrazuoli swam in a simple yet sophisticated sauce of mushrooms, basil and white wine. This dish was all earthy colours and textures, and the flavours varied between pleasant tartness from the wine to the wholesome nuttiness of the mushrooms. The sprinkling of pine nuts was a creamy addition to an expertly balanced dish, and the perfect finishing touch.
My partner chose the rotolo of lemon and mascarpone with cod fish fingers, swapping the chorizo pepperonata for a tangy pomodoro sauce. This was a stunning plate of food. A complicated mix of bold flavours that somehow worked harmoniously together, and a real thing of beauty. The cod was substantial in taste and delicate in texture, with a gorgeous crumb and light mascarpone. The sharp tomato sauce cut through the creaminess to provide a very well-
We thought it would be best to share something sweet to end our meal, and the chocolate delice with espresso and grappa panna cotta and salted caramel was too hard to resist. Intense, but never tipping over into being sickly, the ideal portion size meant that we got just enough to satisfy the chocolate urge. This is not for the faint-hearted, but if you’re in the market for a truly deluxe dessert, then I can’t recommend it
Pasta Loco is a superb restaurant. Managing to impress locals and critics alike is a tough job, but with a winning combination of excellent hospitality, a great team and just really, really, ridiculously good food, they’ve managed it. No wonder their list of awards includes the double whammy of being named Britain’s Best Pasta Restaurant and Bristol’s Best Restaurant. With a sister restaurant, a bar-cum-deli and another top-secret eatery coming soon, there will be more awards to come, I’m sure.
37a Cotham Hill
0117 973 3000