Handmade fresh pasta is one of the major food trends sweeping London. Over the past few years, Padella and Pastaio have become two of the biggest names in London’s pasta scene, but which is better?
Padella was the game-changer if not through its originality, through its success. Located next to London Bridge underground (Borough Market exit) it continues to attract hoards of people willing to queue for hours for a plate of the freshest pasta.
When I first heard about Padella, there was a growing consensus that it’s the best pasta in all of London; at the lowest price! What that means is that sure, you might get better pasta at one of London’s Italian fine-dining restaurants, such as Angela Hartnett’s Murano or Chelsea favourite Daphne’s, but not for £8 a plate.
So I set out to investigate. I asked a friend who works near London Bridge to keep an eye on the constant queue of people standing between us and pasta perfection to spot any quiet times.
He noticed that as long as you avoid peak hours, normally the wait isn’t more than 30 minutes. And so, on a warm Saturday evening in September, we arrived around 6 pm and were seated within 20 minutes. Success!
They operate on a first-come-first-serve basis, writing down names in a list. Although it’s worth going early, as often by 7 pm, they will have already sold out for the night.
We were advised that the concept at Padella is to share and sample 3-4 pasta dishes per couple, so we ordered 6 (we were starving) for our group of 3 and a couple of starters.
What was immediately obvious was the quality and authenticity of the ingredients used, which is what Italian cuisine is all about. It was also a real treat to taste not just one but six different pastas! Of course we all had our individual favourites, but overall we were impressed and agreed that this could very well be the best pasta in town.
£4 to £11 per pasta dish. 6 Southwark Street, London Bridge, SE1 1TQ
Since Padella opened in April 2016, a number of newer, dedicated pasta houses have emerged, each seeking to claim the coveted title of ‘best pasta in London.’
Chief among them is Pastaio, open since October 2017, and located just off Kingly Street in Soho. Not long after, rumours began to circle that perhaps Pastaio was even better than Padella.
The concept is the same, no reservations, good things come to those who wait type thing. And like Padella, they also have an open kitchen and communal seating. But a key difference I observed is that people tend to only order one pasta dish per person…
Last week, I took a fellow foodie with me to come try it out. We ordered the mussels and clams starter with a side of sourdough and a Carbonara each.
Unfortunately, we found the starter rather disappointing and extremely disappointing if you factor in that we’re both Portuguese. Sorry, but we invented clams à Bulhão Pato, and this dish didn’t even come close. Watery, lacking in flavour, and the seafood morsels were very small. Given the limited number of starters, this dish should have been better or best left off the menu.
Moving on, the pasta was good! But not mind-blowing, and not really what I expected. It sounded delicious, bucatini with guanciale, egg yolk and pecorino. So I was expecting to see a more vibrantly coloured sauce dotted with specks of fat-sizzled crimson pork. In terms of flavour, the guanciale didn’t work for me as an alternative to pancetta, and the pecorino also felt too subtle and used too sparingly.
Moreover, our plates arrived almost cold and the portions were, in my opinion, too small. Although my friend pointed out that I am pregnant, my husband and I could have easily eaten two plates each!
Suffice it to say, in terms of London’s best pasta, Padella is a clear winner. However, Pastaio has some other things going for it. In terms of atmosphere and location, it’s a lot more vibrant and has a great energy. It’s big, loud and feels very ’happening’. They also have Prosecco on tap as well as Prosecco slushies, which, perhaps if I had been able to drink I would have found myself a little less critical!
£6.5 to £12.5 per pasta dish. 19 Ganton Street, Carnaby Soho, W1F 9BN
But wait, there’s more…!
The most recent contender to enter the competition for London’s best pasta is a new but old place called Lina Stores, also in Soho. Lina Stores is a well established Italian shop and deli on Brewer Street that has been selling the finest Italian ingredients in London for 75 years. Last year in May, they opened their very first restaurant on Greek Street focusing on, you guessed it, handmade pasta.
So far, it’s been a huge hit, perhaps fuelled by the highly Instagrammable pastel mint interiors, attracting the world’s bloggers like bees to honey. But it also sounds highly promising. Led by Head Chef Masha Rener, who for years ran her own place in Umbria, and supplied by their famous Deli, highly promising indeed. Although I haven’t had the chance to go there just yet, I’ll come back and update this post as soon as I do!
£6.5 to £14 per pasta dish. 51 Greek Street, Soho, W1D 4EH
Last but not least, you should know that you don’t have to go out to find fresh pasta in London. In 2017, a start-up called Pasta Evangelists was launched, promising the same great restaurant quality and taste of handmade pasta delivered to your home.
The pasta is made fresh every day, with a changing menu of mouth-watering recipes that take no more than 5 minutes to prepare at home. To read my review, see blog post and visit their website for the latest deals.
£6 to £11.95 per pasta dish. Home Delivery