From university troughs of spag bol, to the pre-payday pasta pesto ritual, pasta has always been our go-to for an easy, tasty, saucy, or cheesy meal. But recently, words like ‘fresh’ and ‘handmade’ and ‘pasta’ have started appearing in the descriptions of new speciality fresh handmade pasta restaurants. And that means Londoners are eating more pasta. Which is definitely a good thing. you just need to make sure you’re eating the right pasta at the right places. Specifically, these places.
Picture it: there’s a troupe of Italian female chefs, all from different regions, cooking you different handmade pastas. They’re laughing, smiling, ladling another spoonful of lasagne on your plate the minute you finish your cacio e pepe. In an ideal world, this would be our life everyday. And if you’re close to the King’s Road (or even if you’re not) it can be. La Mia Mamma is that picture and more. It’s fun loving, affordable, and best of all: full of excellent pasta.
Although it’s primarily a daytime bakery, Pophams in Hackney serves handmade pastas in the evening from Wednesday to Sunday, and they’re all rather lovely. The supper-clubbish candlelit atmosphere of the evening makes it a perfect date location. Whether that date involves you and someone else, or it’s more of a you and a sensational bowl of cappellacci dei briganti, is something that only you can decide. Though we’d recommend the former. More bodies = more pasta.
Sometimes when you want pasta, you just want the pasta. No noise. No people. No distractions. Just you and a bowl of glorious carbs. When you’re in that kind of mood, you should come to Emilia. It doesn’t really matter that this fancy Mayfair Italian is a bit of an atmosphere hoover, because the downstairs bar is comfortable and more casual, and the four changing pastas they have on are superb. It isn’t cheap - around £14 for a primi portion - but once you taste that rabbit tagliatelle you’ll realise why.
Inadvertently gaining ownership of a 700 year old foodstuff is no easy feat in a city like London, but somehow Padella has done this. In all honesty, we do know how though: their pasta is seriously good and seriously good value. So good that in the early days you probably wouldn’t have been surprised to see people go all iPhone on it and get the tent involved for the queue. Thankfully this has calmed down a bit now. But just a bit. The cacio e pepe and the beef shin ragu are classics that you won’t want to share, and at around a tenner for each, there’s no need to.
Sfoglina may sound a bit like the noise we make when we blow our nose, but in Italy it’s something much better. It’s the term used for the woman who runs the show, the lady everyone wants to be friends with: the female pasta maker. Burro’s sfoglina is up front as soon as you walk into their Shoreditch restaurant and shop, and, basically, you want to be eating everything she’s making. Their signature beef, pork and spinach stuffed agnolotti is excellent, while the rest of the menu changes depending on the month. It’s a little pricier than other places, but the pasta is seriously high quality.
A five minute walk from Old Street station - a sentence that could, honestly, lead us anywhere - is Popolo, an Italian restaurant that mixes the traditional with the, er, less traditional. The pasta here probably sits more in the former but that’s not a bad thing at all as it’s still very nice. The plates switch around pretty often but there’s almost certain to be a variation of agnolotti and ravioli on the menu, and then something in the spaghetti, tagliatelle, or pappardelle family that might be topped with hare ragu or a load of fresh seafood. Perfect for propping yourself up at the bar with.
Pasta and wine is, after a pint and scampi fries, the most perfect food and drink pairing that exists. Sager + Wilde is a wine bar first and foremost, but they also make some very nice pasta. Their 5-7pm offer of a plate of pasta and a glass of house wine for a tenner is one of those things that everyone should be doing in our opinion. The pastas change around regularly but you’re likely to see a ragu and a burnt butter sauce, as in line with the rest of London’s pasta scene, which suits us just fine.
Flour & Grape in Bermondsey shouldn’t just be thought of as a Padella back-up, even though it is close by, because it’s worth booking here to try their roast pork shoulder tortellini regardless. Like all the best things in life, these guys come with a lot of butter. A paddling pool of butter and sage to be precise. Which, frankly, is how all good foods should be served. This place is an easy win on all fronts really. It’s relaxed but refined, well priced, and it makes the perfect amount (eight dishes) of superbly cooked pasta. Order them all.
Ciao Bella is one of our favourite London institutions. It’s a place that serves pasta, pizza and every Italian foodstuff in-between. This is an Italian restaurant that everyone can get behind because everyone is welcome. Their classic seafood linguine is inexplicably served in a greaseproof paper bag that you slide out onto your plate, a steaming mountain of spaghetti - singular prawn and all. It’s great. Warning: you may or may not be serenaded by a man playing the piano. It’s that kind of place.
Bocca’s pasta is one of the many great things about this restaurant. This isn’t a place you really want to be in and out of. This is a settle down and get your arse into a comfy groove kind of place. Each pasta here can be bought in a small or large plate, and considering the small plates are ‘generous’, we can only imagine what the large are like. Their rigatoni with calves intestines is (in)famous, but we’re more into the orecchiette or tortellini. You can easily share a majority of the pastas on offer for twenty quid each between two, and that’s a pretty amazing deal for a place like this.
Bottles is a wine bar on the edge of Spitalfields Market, and Sood is a pop-up pasta specialist that used to occupy a spot in the Spitalfields Kitchens. At £12.50 for a plate of spaghetti all’amatriciana with crispy guanciale, the pasta is perhaps a little more expensive than some other specialists, but this a different beast. It’s a dark and woody affair, and with wines ranging from £5.50 to over £20 a glass, there are plenty of options for all budgets, and servers are more than capable of pointing you towards something that’ll nicely compliment the food. There’s also a terrace that you can settle in whilst watching Old Spitalfields Market go about its business.
Another that’s part of the old school, so to speak, Da Mario is the kind of place that will play Frank Sinatra on loop and make you smile. The pasta here is of the pomodoro-that-I-probably-don’t-need-to-finish-but-do variety and we love it. This is definitely not one of your artisanal pasta places that flies in San Marzano tomatoes that have come straight from the base of Mount Vesuvius and were once looked at by Antonio Carluccio. But that doesn’t matter because it’s nice and will make you happy.
If you like great pasta, then heaven probably looks a lot like Luca. This is a proper restaurant (and as a result has some proper prices), but don’t let that put you off as 1) The pasta is sensational. 2) It’s one of our favourite restaurants in London. 3) They have a time-specific bar menu which always features a couple of the pastas at a reduced price. 4) We would happily live here. 5) You get the point.
If you’re looking to get comfy with a glass or bottle, then Via Emilia is probably for you. The pasta here is good and you’ll want to take your time - and they’ll let you. Each pasta dish is cooked individually rather than getting everything simultaneously. The simple spaghetti with slowly cooked tomatoes straight from Cesena and olive oil from somewhere equally impressive and Italian sounding is very comforting. And a snip at just over a fiver. Good pasta doesn’t have to cost too much. You can reserve here, and there usually aren’t long waits.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Pastaio is just that. Kind of like the Bort Simpson to London’s best-known ‘P’ pasta restaurant, Pastaio still make some lovely pasta and they’re in central. This is a great option for when you want to be in and out of somewhere pretty quickly but are still looking for that wild boar, or crab and chilli type fix - you want the good stuff but you don’t want to wait too long or spend too much time having it. We get that sometimes, and we’re down with it.
Institution Alert: If you’re from North London and you don’t know about Anima, it’s time to get to know it. The pasta is daily changing and always with a range of ingredients from rabbit to fresh peas to clams. It’s tiny here. 22 seats tiny. So we recommend booking to avoid sadness and hunger. Oh, and it’s BYOB. Oh and, we know this is a pasta guide, but they make their own ice cream as well.
If you’re into knowing about different regions or at least pretending to, then the Roman pasta at Palatino will be of interest to you. We’re not actually sure what it means food-wise, but do as the Romans do, right? We may have said this before but the cacio e pepe is something you really should be eating and preferably not sharing. And really you’ll want to be ordering everything as there are only five or so dishes.
If you’re a Peckham local, then you’re probably in Artusi on the regular. If you’re not, then you want to be jumping on the Overground because this excellent ‘Italian-inspired’ neighbourhood restaurant make some delicious pasta. There are usually two or three dishes on the menu and you can expect sauces and combinations such as cacio e pepe and the like. Think spaghetti with octopus and broccoli or bucatini with chard and raisins. This pasta is worth travelling for, if required.
Tagliatelle. That’s what you’re going to get at Franzina Trattoria and you are gonna like it. We’re not saying that’s the pasta you have to order, we’re saying it’s the pasta you literally have to order because it’s all they make. There are five choices of the stuff and they’re all great. The black squid ink and calamari one is pretty special to look at, and it’s pretty special to swiftly consume as well. It’s not squid ink pasta, the pasta is tossed in squid ink. A small but vital difference in our opinion. It’s a cosy place as well. As cosy as a shipping container in Brixton can be we guess.
The younger sibling to Artusi, Marcella is a very nice little restaurant two seconds from Deptford station. It’s a similar Italy-inspired vibe and the menu has a few different things going on, but there are usually four changing pasta dishes as part of it. We have very fond memories of a squid ink bucatini, but whatever you order will be good. Go with a friend and get all four because, well, why wouldn’t you?