If you are looking for beautifully executed pasta dishes that don’t break the bank, you're in for a treat at A Tavola (Italian for ‘to the table’). It’s the sort of place you’d be happy to dine in every night of the week. Alas, with queues out the door and more waiting in the pub, you might be waiting awhile.
It’s a small, tight operation. Chef/restaurateur Eugene Maiale rolls out sheets of housemade pasta before every service on a big marble communal table that runs the length of the room. The floor is run by a sassy blonde – Monica Caesar – and her domain is very rustic. The restaurant is lit by giant copper orbs and the specials are scrawled on a wall- mounted blackboard while every corner is piled with wine boxes, sacks of flour and stacks of pasta drying at the end of the table. Maiale also makes his own bread, which comes with a little clay bowl of chilli oil when you sit down. Start with olive all ascolana (that’s olives wrapped in pork mince, battered and deep fried – kinda like an Italian Scotch egg) with fronds of rocket or try the hot discs of peppery salami on a bed of smooth polenta topped with delicious parmo.
You come to A Tavola for dishes like big raggedy sheets of pasta with braised rabbit – the sweetness and richness of the bunny busted up with fat chunks of green olive. Or bucatini ametricana – lengths of thin, tubular pasta with a homestyle sauce of pork cheek, pancetta, chilli and tomato. Duck liver and orecchiette is little pieces of liver tossed through inverted bellybutton-shaped pasta with cime di rapa (that’s turnip tops – yes, they taste better than they sound) and the same pasta shape comes served with a broccoli sauce. Here’s the rub: you can order the pasta as an entrée, but you pay main prices and get a main size which is a bit of a waste of food, unless you’re a (very) big eater. That said, it’s homespun, it’s rough-hewn and it’s very, very tasty.
Desserts are not A Tavola’s ace. Vin Santo e biscotti – an Italian dessert wine served with those crisp, twice baked Italian biscuits for dipping – isn’t great (soft biscotti) and the meringue rotolo (a fl at sheet of meringue, fi lled with sweet ricotta) falls flat. Come here expecting great pasta in fun, rowdy environs and you won’t leave disappointed. They only take bookings before 7pm but with the opening of the courtyard in the last couple of weeks, there’ll be more chance to nab a table. Hey, you can always pop down for a sly Friday lunch…