…but not always in the way you might expect.
I suppose it’s a worldwide phenomenon, the dressing-up of ‘ethnic’ restaurants to conjure up the ambience of the homeland…. and yet I tend to be suspicious. Anywhere that needs to ‘theme’ itself strongly may be saying something about the inability of its food to do the job without help.
Pastaciutta is about as far away from that as possible. Started a couple of years ago by husband-and-wife Alessio and Laura Maugeri, it is tucked away under a multi-storey car park in the less attractive part of Chelmsford Market. Yes, Chelmsford, that well-known hot-spot of refined eating. Well, perhaps the ghost of Marconi lives on, for it was from here that he made the world’s first radio broadcasts.
Pastaciutta is not a restaurant; a working kitchen with a canteen tacked on, would be a better description. There is a glass display counter out front, full of the most wonderful home-made pasta, and a small eat-in area comprising folding wooden chairs and tables. There is a little attempt at homeliness, but it’s no more ‘themed’ than you would expect in the back streets of a small town in Sicily. When we visited, there was a good babble of Italian not only in the kitchen but amongst the clientele too, and Alessio and Laura seem gradually to be colonising several other nearby pitches in order to gain more seating space. Take-away trade that weekday lunchtime was booming, including service to a number of the other stall-holders.
Whether you eat there, or take away, the food is served in disposable dishes with plastic cutlery. But who cares, when it is as good as this? There is a choice of sauces including daily specials, which you can mix and match with a pasta of your choice. I went for the acid test, namely a meat ragu with tagliatelle, and having eaten a good many of same in Bologna, I can attest that this is no pale imitation. My wife’s Norma was equally spot-on – in the best home-cooking sense. Pleasingly, they also offer less-known dishes too.
Espressi followed, possibly the best had in the U.K. for a long time. Only an inch deep and thick enough almost to be a savory. We left toting two slices of torta caprese, which did not last long when we got back home.
I think getting a license might be a good move – I’m sure they could source some equally good wines to match, though it might slow the throughput, I suppose. I do like a good Italian restaurant, but while at first sight this place can look rather basic, that is pretty much what small-town Italy is like. But just as there, it makes the food all the more of a delight.