Review: Pasta Café in Johannesburg
The setting is the epitome of casual, but the pasta is the quintessence of freshness and authenticity.
Pasta Café is located in Appleton’s Village in Randburg; a centre primarily dedicated to take-away joints and convenience stores. Whilst the ‘casual dining’ theme that runs through the centre certainly fits Pasta Café, there is nothing casual about the food that they serve: it’s ‘out of this world’ good.
There is an overriding emphasis on freshness and sustainability when it comes to their ingredients: free-range and sustainably farmed meats and eggs, beautifully fresh vegetables and cheeses which are free of hormones…the emphasis is on quality, and it’s a quality you can taste. So where do they get the pasta from? The pasta, I am delighted to tell you, is all made on site, on a daily basis.
The venue itself is small and unassuming and seats about 40 people. Reclaimed wooden tables with red, plastic chairs are neatly spaced around the kitchen and counter, bespoke copper piping detail frame the lights and mirrors and fresh herbs in boxes and red hurricane lamps speckle the casual bar seating. The menu is detailed on a long, black chalk board above the open-plan kitchen; a design that invites patrons and curious kids alike to watch and interact with the food they’re making. They want the restaurant to feel like walking into your mother’s kitchen; casual, welcoming, no fuss or frippery, just seriously tasty, homemade food.
The menus and ordering are in the same vein as Andaccio 24 – you’re welcomed into the restaurant and seated before being given a simple piece of paper on which you’ll find every combination of sauce, meat and pasta type, including the options of pasta wraps and salads in the ‘build your own style’ of ordering. The range of ingredients and combinations is vast: 4 basic sauces (cream, pesto, napoletana, dolce latte) to which you can add 14 meats, 25 vegetables, 6 cheeses and 6 types of pasta including gluten-free and egg-free options. It’s a carnival for pasta lovers. But, if you’re not up for making your own and prefer to stick to the classics, there is a range of ‘Ol’Classics’ to which you need only define your pasta choice: Bolognese, Alfredo, Marinara, Salmone, Calamari, Carciofe (Artichokes), Asparagi (Asparagus), as well as stuffed pastas and bakes: Lasagne, Butternut (Agnolotti), Lamb Thyme (Agnolotti) and Macaroni and Cheese.
They do not have a liquor licence as yet (it should be coming through in March), but there is a liquor store next door which is very convenient and it’s generally open until 8pm, so if you forget to bring your own wine, you can buy a bottle there.
When it came to ordering, we decided to can the idea of a salad – we were in pasta heaven and wanted to indulge in that. We were intrigued by the pasta wraps; so ordered a basic wrap (lettuce, tomato, mayo, herbs and sprouts) with strips of leg of lamb and red onion. They are presented in the same way as the wraps you’re used to, but they are freshly-made, egg-free and have no preservatives so are really light and crisp, and don’t have the stretchy/gloopy texture that wraps often tend to. I have to say, it was delicious, subtle and moreish and I would come for one of these any day, as a quick lunch on the go.
For mains we decided to indulge in three pastas, yes, you heard right, three. We went for the ‘Ol’Classics’ as I felt these dishes would best represent what Pasta Café is all about. We ordered The Lamb Thyme Agnolotti, the Marinara with Linguine and the Carciofi (Artichokes) with Rigatoni. Holy moly, they make some damn fine pasta here. I have to say the Lamb Thyme Agnolotti was the stand-out; it just oozed home-made gorgeousness, like a real Italian Mama would make. The filling is a tantalizing mix of slow-cooked lamb, ricotta and thyme in a delicate pasta parcel paired with a fresh and vivacious Napoletana and wild mushroom sauce – sublime!
The Marinara and Carciofe were just marvellous – the Marinara showcases calamari, mussels and succulent prawns in a rich Napoletana, with the perfect pairing of linguine pasta to soak up the lashings of sauce. The Carciofe is the ideal vegetarian dish with generous pieces of dense artichoke amongst olives, mushrooms and tomato with fresh thyme, garlic and a hint of chilli.
Having had these three dishes, I’m not sure I would ever want to create my own pasta sauce here; the team, under the mentorship of chef Martin van der Walt, really understand the delicate nature of fresh ingredients. And, to be honest, good pasta really doesn’t require much to make it mesmerising, less, in this case, is very often more. They’ve created something special in the casual-dining sector and I really hope it catches on.
To top it off, all the dishes are served with the most wonderful, homemade chilli and freshly grated garlic (none of the knock-your-socks-off, pre-packaged stuff.)
The prices range from about R70 to R135 for the classic pastas (the Lamb Agnolotti was R95, and a steal at that if you ask me), with the wraps and salads starting at R35 and R45 respectively (before the addition of toppings). If you’re going the ‘build your own’ route then the sky’s the limit with regard to price – something to possibly be wary of when giving the kids free reign.
The only gripe I have with the restaurant is that there is no bathroom on site, meaning you need to walk across to Rocomamas to use their restroom. Hopefully they’ll get this sorted out soon. In the meantime, just go and get yourself a bowl of seriously good pasta, you won’t be sorry.
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