The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - The Telegraph Magazine
‘I’m uneasy about pasta in sharing plates’
Pasta, in authentic Italian settings, is one part of a meal. Of course we Brits grabbed and bastardised it, making it the whole shebang, and now there are joints where pasta is front, centre, the start and the finish. Our digestion pays the price.
And they encourage this at Notto. If there are two of you they suggest sharing three pasta dishes. And as adjuncts to this they lob in crostini and Parmesan butter biscuits as snacks (although there are starters like vitello tonnato, chestnut soup and burrata). So if you want carbs, this is the place.
Notto started as a Londononly delivery company, one of several businesses run by the brilliant chef Phil Howard, an exceptional cook, who ran The Square in Mayfair for 20 years before opening a posh place in Chelsea, another in Barnes and another in La Plagne, in the French Alps (which means he has to go skiing for much of the year).
I wonder if Notto is hoping to be a rollout; open some in London then a few more across the UK before, five years later, finding some venture capitalist to take the burden off you in return for a comfy life in a chalet in the Alps with a driveway that has underfloor heating.
Who knows, but here’s the first one: stark, pale, bright, with lots of glass, breezy, informal and with elegant service and not a hint of cosiness.
If this is a joint for a quick bite at lunchtime for office workers around Piccadilly then it’s a considerable leap for the wallet from a sandwich, as the pasta averages at £13 and they reckon you need 1.5 of them and possibly some crostini. Which isn’t a cheap bowl of pasta lunch.
But then neither is this a place to linger. With glass covering the entirety of one side that looks on to Church Place, you’re completely exposed to the street.
But to the food: an early bite of Parmesan butter biscuits offered an irresistible treat. They’re the sort of thing I would stalk a waitress at a wedding for. And as my guest has a dairy intolerance I had to eat all three.
Happy days. And they were better than the ensuing crostini which, heaved variously with minced chicken liver and mushroom, were obviously not for sharing and so were too piled high and too rich.
I had an excellent vitello tonnato, which was a delightful and generous plate, an inviting whirlpool of swirling tuna and cream and capers. Meanwhile, my guest Beverley was freshening up with a perky salad of puntarella with fennel and an anchovy and orange dressing: the food equivalent of having your head pushed into a pile of snow, if you like that kind of thing.
Then came the pastas. Three bowls of pappardelle ragu, squid ink spaghetti and root vegetable bucatini. Here the sharing concept collapses. I’m uneasy even twisting my fork into my wife’s plate of pasta, and me and Bev hadn’t even got to first base.
So out of my mouth comes my fork, and into the pasta, awkwardly decanted on to a smaller plate before the next mouth journey. And we rather felt the flavours then merged into one; well-made pastas but alternate mouthfuls of fishy squid and beef shin becoming a rather less distinguished and confused stew.
There was one thing I did love, though. Head to the loos and appreciate the collection of chopping boards hanging on the wall of the stairwell. They are beautiful things. Handmade, rustic, misshapen and worn, they are tactile objects, now works of art. Notto needs a dose of their warmth and romance.
Alternate mouthfuls of fishy squid and beef shin become a rather less distinguished and confused stew