“ ITALIAN. Various locations. „
In London you are spoiled for choice when it comes to restaurants with some cuisines represented more than others. Italians are ten a penny with competition so fierce I would expect an Italian in central London to really pull out all the stops. But that is not always the case as I experienced recently at Cafe Pasta in Garrick Street, Covent Garden.
My friend and I were having a midweek girly catch up and were looking for somewhere to have a bite to eat that was fairly reasonable and was not one of the major chains. Cafe Pasta seemed to tick all of the boxes. Located on the corner of Garrick Street Cafe Pasta has a prime West End position.
Its just a short stroll from Covent Garden Piazza, Leicester Square and a number of the major West End theatres We came across it by chance when we were just having a wander to find somewhere to eat. Its not strictly an independent, as its part of a mini chain with three restaurants in London and one in Stratford Upon Avon.
The restaurant is medium sized situated mostly in the basement of the building with six or seven tables on the ground floor. After perusing the reasonably sized menu outside we ventured inside and downstairs to the main restaurant which seemed very busy. We were immediately sent back upstairs to one of the last available tables very near the door. In a way this was a nice table to have, as it was light and airy and we could easily people watch. I would love to describe to you in detail the décor and style of the restaurant but I am afraid the décor was so innocuous I barely remembered what the restaurant looked like the day after. I have a vaguer memory of dark wood and cream walls but that is about it. It is certainly very cosy upstairs, as th tables seemed very close together. I don't think this restaurant is particularly suited to those with mobility problems due to the steep stairs to the min restaurant and I think that was where the toilets were but can't be sure as i did not use them.
The main reason why we chose the restaurant was we particularity liked the menu. It was a reasonable length with enough choice but not too extensive for it to be over the top. There was a nice balance of familiar old favourite dishes such as margarita pizza, spaghetti bolognase and carbonara alongside some more interesting combinations. Vegetarians are well catered for with 4 out of the 12 pasta and risottos being vegie and half of the pizzas. Prices are competitive with other Italian restaurant starters around the £4-£5 mark, pizzas between £7 and £10 and pastas roughly about £8 or £9 apart from the seafood options which are slightly dearer. Meat and seafood courses tend to be around the £14 mark. There is a separate children's menu and also lunch and pre theatre deals.
We decided to share some ciabatta to start with and I went for the asparagus and ricotta ravioli whilst my friend went for Margarita pizza. I decided to wash this down with a glass of fresh mint lemonade.. Whilst ordering I was not happy that the waiter was trying to get us to order extra things. He commented that the garlic bread was nicer and also asked us both if we wanted a side salad. If we wanted one we would have ordered one in the first place.
Our drinks came promptly a couple of minutes later. I have to hand it to them Cafe Pasta do a very nice lemonade. It had plenty of fresh lemon and mint and the flavours balanced and combined to make a sweet but sharp very refreshing drink. About ten minutes later our main courses arrived before our starter did. Our ciabatta was conspicuous by its absent. We asked where our start was and then told them to forget it. Only or it to appear five minutes later hen we had started tucking into our mains. The ciabatta was nicely crispy on the outside and wonderfully doughty in the middle. There was a nice balsamic vinegar dip to go with it. I found the ciabatta to be useful for mopping up the tomato and a tiny bit of basil sauce that my ravioli came in. My ravioli looked very attractive with about seven or eight fat circular pasta parcels. Unfortunately the taste did not live up their appearance. I played a game of spot the asparagus, as I found the parcels to be very low on asparagus. I was not that impressed with the texture of the ravioli as it was very claggy and I found that even with a large dose of black pepper and Parmesan my dish was still pretty bland. My friend said her Margarita was nice but she had better.
The desserts were your usual suspects with homemade tiramasu, chocolate fudge cake and various ice creams and sorbets all around about £5 (the ice crams perhaps a pound cheaper), The table next to us had a berry topped waffle and that did look tempting but knowing us we would get the completely wrong order. So we decided to go straight for the bill.
The waiting staff seemed pretty rushed off their feet and a bit disorganised. Two separate people asked us if we would like dessert menus an then it took us four attempts to get the bill. My friend heard the people on the table next to us laugh after the fourth exasperated attempt to get the bill. Luckily there was no service charge added on like in a lot of restaurants in London, as we would have refused to have paid it. I normally leave some sort of tip but due to the ciabatta incident we decided to forgo the tip and just pay the £21.40 bill for one drink two mains and that famous ciabatta..
According to their website Cafe Pasta has been around for 25 years and I am sure they will be around for another 25, as they are in a prime location and there will always be a large number of hungry diners through their doors. Whether they get repeat business I am not sure. I will not be going back , as there are so many restaurants in that area I am not going to put up with average food and farcical service.
Cafe Pasta, 2-4 Garrick Street,
London WC2E 9BH (map)
Telephone: 020 7497 2779
I would not be surprised if you hadn't heard of Café Pasta, they only have half a dozen sites and all but one are based in London tucked away slightly off the beaten track. But don't let this put you off, I f you're tired of Pizza Express, Strada, Prezzo or Ask why not give this little gem a try? I have been eating there on and off for the last 7 years and the menu continues to expand, moving from pasta to 12" pizza (Strada sized - take note Pizza Express!) and a selection of grills.
The Shaftesbury Avenue branch is at the top of Shaftesbury avenue at the Covent garden end, making it perfect for a meal before visiting the Shaftesbury theatre (for Daddy cool, the Boney M musical), Freuds for cocktails or the Odeon cinema. Nearest tubes are Covent garden or a 10 minute walk from Holborn.
The Restaurant itself is the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue & Monmouth street and has 2 entrances. If you feel the need to search for a map the postcode is WC2H 8JB.
The restaurant is quite small (about 10 tables upstairs & a bit bigger
downstairs) so you can't fail to be greeted as soon as you walk in the door.
The kitchen must be downstairs, I didn't see it, and upstairs is a waiter station where they store all the drinks so there's always someone at hand if you want a top up or the bill. Against the wall is comfy cushioned bench seating with regular dining chairs facing (and obviously a table between the 2). Since it is on a corner everyone can see out of the window giving it a light airy feel. At the moment one side of the room is available for smokers and since I smoke I can't really comment but I would imagine its very noticeable that people smoke if you're at the other side of the room as it's so small. On the wall is a blackboard with a list of specials, it does change regularly but more of a rotation rather than completely different items every time.
When we arrived we were greeted, seated and handed menus immediately, since it is quite small the waiter could see the moment we had put down the menus and came over to take our order. Unlike some restaurants, when they offered olives and we said no they didn't start reeling off a list of items
(up-selling) as he clearly saw we weren't interested and wanted to go straight into the main menu order. I picked the wine first, a Merlot at £17.95, the other wines ranged from about £14 to £45 if you want champagne so about typical of most London places.
We couldn't decide between mushroom Bruschetta or Mussels and as we usually try each other's dishes we went for the easier option, the Antipasti. It cost about £7 but the quality of the meats was evident so I didn't feel it was so expensive. It comes with a selection of cured meats on a bed of rocket, 2 types of olives, garlic butter & dough sticks. It is served on a wooden chopping board and since it was so rich we found it to be just enough without over facing us for our main course.
Usually when we visit Café Pasta I have the big Pizza (£9) and the Countess has pasta with pesto & buffalo mozzarella or Carbonara (both around £8) but this time she was a bit more adventurous and ordered from the grill menu. As I said earlier the Pizzas are quite large and I went for my usual, the Carne (meat feast). Normally I don't like pepperoni anywhere except at Pizza Express but the pepperoni on the carne is perfect, not too spicy but enough of a kick so as you know it's not just supermarket sausage. There are slices of Parma ham, ground beef - with a bit of a kick too and a handful of hot peppers. The Countess had a duck risotto which was a duck wing on a bed of rice in a very rich dark sauce. Once I had tried a few too many spoonfuls I realized I had made the wrong choice and that I need to be more adventurous next time we go.
The Pizza was almost too big and the duck so rich that we almost didn't have room for pudding, but the menu seemed to have changed since our last visit and we were itching to try the new hot fudge brownies and one of the new cheesecakes.
They have the usual selection of Italian desserts like Tiramisu and summer pudding but I am a chocolate fudge type dessert fan and the Countess likes her Cheesecake so the decision was easy.
Hot chocolate brownies with ice cream was a touch small and at almost £5 quite expensive but absolutely delicious. Fudge sauce was drizzled all over the brownie and the ice cream and brownie was full of chopped nuts which I wasn't really expecting. Cheesecake being cheesecake was very rich (she chose double chocolate ) and again was quite a slender slice for the price.
Fit to burst
After all this we were totally stuffed, not even room for my usual amaretto coffee and I had a funny feeling we had already spent quite a lot anyway.
The Waiter brought the bill over without being asked after we had declined coffee, it was £56 which was a nice surprise mostly because of the wine and the Duck being £12, so nothing out of the ordinary in London.
I will definitely continue to eat in Café Pasta, sometimes it can be a bit pricey but the quality of service and cosy atmosphere make it worthwhile when there are so many chains out there where you're seen as just another customer. The only drawback with the size of the restaurant is if they are full upstairs and you are seated downstairs you can sometimes get overlooked a little, but since the food for people upstairs has to come past you from the kitchen it's never for long. This time we were fine as it was Tuesday and only half full. I couldn't see any disabled access & I have never seen any children in the restaurant - there is no child menu although you could probably ask for a smaller portion eg pasta comes in 2 sizes, starter or main
Forget about the name, there's about a dozen pizzas to choose from, mussels, salmon, steak and salads making it more Café Italiano than Café Pasta
Kensington High Street
Stratford Upon Avon
Also posted on ciao