i haven't eaten italian food since leaving italy last month. ok that's a lie; i totally had pizza last week, didn't i? ok, let me try again: i haven't eaten pasta since leaving italy last month. and truth be told, i was never a big pasta fan before. i think actually it was all in my head, me not liking pasta, because i am onion intollerant and all pasta sauce has onion in it and therefore i don't like pasta. weirdly, i never considered trying an onion-free pasta...just...eliminated it from my diet. but then there was italy.
italian pasta was another level tasty. like, i get they invented it, but we've invented some real shit that other people have improved upon, and yet no one has been able to better real, fresh, italian pasta. which is a great reason to go to italy, sure. it's also a great reason to avoid pasta anywhere that isn't served in italy. so when i was invited along to check out the newly renovated strada on panton street in the west end, i was dubious.
but i was also hungry. hunger will always win out in the fight between it and curiosity, and so it was that i found myself in a comfortable booth last friday night with three of my favourite humans, warming up from the cold with a cold glass of prosecco and a couple of delicious flat breads to tide us over until we stopped chatting and looked at the damn menu. for information: if it weren't for the wait staff consistently suggesting dishes from the menu to try, we may never have stopped chatting. also for information: the garlic and mozzarella and the tomato and pesto flat breads (or, schiacciatella) were equal parts tasty, full of flavour, and the perfect thing to accompany the first (of many) glasses of wine for the night.
we did eventually order though, much to sophie - the floor manager's relief. we asked for her opinion at every turn, and thankfully, she was more than happy to give it. in fact, her starter suggestions turned out to be so on point that we totally relied on her when it came to ordering mains. and wine. and dessert. it just seemed easier that way as there were too many great-sounding dishes on the menu, and none of us were particularly keen on suffering any sort of diner's remorse when we inevitably saw a dish pass by that we were uhm-ing and ahh-ing over in the first place.
to begin, we chose a few dishes from the starter menu. on sophie's suggestion we ordered the crispy squid (served with smashed caper and parsley mayo), arancini balls (with smoked mozzarella, spicy tomato and aged parmesan), grilled avocado and mozzarella salad, and some mushroom and truffle oil bruschetta (pan roasted mixed mushrooms and truffle oil tossed with butter and a little chilli), as well as a couple of bottles of the house wines. my faves of the lot were the fresh and flavourful salad (never had a grilled avocado before!), and the squid - which was crisped to perfection and definitely not as oily as some deep fried dishes can be, with the caper and parsely mayo as a yummy, creamy accompaniment. i basically wolfed down the whole thing too.
when it came to the mains, i knew what i'd be ordering the moment i laid my eyes on it: the seafood linguine with tiger prawns, mussels, passata, cherry tomatoes, capers and a fresh chilli and parsley sauce. and it was deeeeeelicious. it needed no additional seasoning (i love a bit of salt and pepper on my plate), and eventually i was defeated by the giant plate of tasty seafood and fresh pasta, admitting that it's possible that my eyes were bigger than my stomach.
the other girls were in a similar position, thankfully, so thanks to sophie's great judgement i was able to get my taste buds around some of the other super tasty dishes too. katy went for the pumpkin ravioli with sage butter, ricotta and amaretti crumbs (which was sooo incredibly delicious; creamy and flavourful, but veryyyyyy "samey" - i would have struggled to eat the whole plate - just like katy did. it's a good thing we are a sharing bunch, and where she stopped, i started.
claire went for a second salad, opting for the goat's cheese market salad full of crumbled cheese, roasted beets, squash, fregola, spinach leaves, fresh orange segments and a house vinaigrette which looked colourful and crisp, while ash chose the chicken and mushroom dish served on herby potatoes, and - stupidly - we also chose a few side salads and rosemary potatoes to keep up... what, incredibly full? so very, very stupid? a little of both? oh yes.
image courtesy of ashleigh jayne
too full to not order another bottle of wine and some tiramisu? no! don't be silly. we'd only had two pre-starters, seven starters, four mains, and two bottles of wine by that point, what on earth makes you think we'd be too full for more food? honestly, sophie was sooooooo pushy. in a total "my best mate is a feeder" way. so obviously the best kind of way! she was so attentive to our needs - and those of the other customers around us, and her team were never too far away with some more water, some cracked pepper, another bottle of wine...
they were all an absolute pleasure to deal with. we hung about for almost four hours in their restaurant, and not once did we get the impression that they wanted us to leave. the staff individually joined in conversations with us, anticipated our needs, and most of all, were all incredibly spot on with their suggestions. every single thing we were suggested by the staff was beyond tasty - like the tiramisu that i was sure i had no room for but one of the friendly waiters told me was light and airy and the creamiest tiramisu he'd ever had. spoiler alert: it was!
so, a month after leaving italy, i finally caved into the lure of fresh pasta. i went into strada that night certain that i would only be cementing the decision to steer clear of the stuff until i was back in the mediterranean, but... no such luck. with an array of set menus to choose from that don't break the bank, to quick and affordable pasta, to a huge range of tasty italian wines, i think i've found my alternative to popping across the pond whenever i fancy a creamy carbonara. plus, with so many locations across the city to head to, i am truly spoiled for choice.
many thanks to the wonderful team at strada for looking after us so well! we'll certainly be back.
*we were invited for dinner, but all thoughts are my own*