Pasta Ripiena is the tiny new Bristol restaurant hundreds of people are desperate to eat at
The new restaurant from Pasta Loco owners is a rare five stars all round
What do you do when you already own one of the most successful and difficult-to-get-into restaurants? Most operators in the enviable position of Pasta Loco owners Ben Harvey and Dominic Borel would open a second, much larger site and capitalise on the huge success of the original.
But then these Bristol-born cousins are smarter than most restaurateurs so they’ve opened a second restaurant that’s half the size of their flagship restaurant and even harder to get into.
And, of course, in the process, they have created the sort of pre-launch buzz that has been quite unprecedented for a small independent in Bristol.
Before the doors of Pasta Ripiena officially opened last night, they had fielded over 300 phone calls, Facebook messages and tweets from people desperate to secure one of the handful of tables in this cosy 22-cover restaurant.
Previously a pizza place, this site was also once part of Mr Wolf’s nightclub and bar, which was why Harvey and Borel wanted it. They used to visit Mr Wolf’s back in the day so it reminds them of their youth. They say they have only good memories of the place and now want to create equally good memories for people at Pasta Ripiena.
Although Harvey and Borel will split their time between Pasta Loco and its fresh-faced little sibling, Pasta Ripiena is more about the food of Ben’s younger brother, Joe.
Joe Harvey has cooked his way around some of Bristol’s better kitchens in recent years, including Bell’s Diner and Bellita but now is his time to shine in an open-view kitchen so close to the diners that he can chat to them as he cooks.
Ripiena means ‘stuffed pasta’ in Italian and that’s precisely what’s on the concise menu in St Stephen’s Street.
Harvey and his team make fresh pasta every day and stuff it with a number of seasonal fillings, but the dishes are more involved than that.
After plates of excellent olives (£4) and top-quality cured meats and cheese – the fennel-seasoned Tuscan finocchiona (£4) and creamy, fruity taleggio cheese (£5) were especially good – we dived into our starters.
Wild garlic and mozzarella arancini with passata and dried oregano (£6) was essentially a cheeky take on a deconstructed pizza. This is a kitchen that likes to play. The crisp, deep-fried balls of molten cheese and punchy wild garlic were served with a smooth, rustic tomato passata made with really good dried oregano. Close your eyes and you may well have been eating a pizza.
We also ordered the roast lamb belly (£7.50) – tender pieces of fatless meat teamed with the sweetest, fingernail-sized broad beans of the new season, charred chicory that provided a smoky and bitter edge, anchovy mayo with plenty of heft and a herby, minty salsa verde.
Ultra-fresh dressed crab (£7) appeared with slow-roasted and sweet tropea onions from Italy, juicy segments of blood orange, frilly fronds of dill and hazelnuts for crunchy contrast.
We tried three of the five main courses, kicking off with a stand-out dish of confit duck tortellini, celeriac puree, caramelised endive and Pedro Ximenez (£14). The plump, generously filled pasta parcels were bursting at their seams as they tried to contain their fillings of slow-cooked shredded duck. The celeriac puree was creamy, the caramelised endive toffee-like in places and the dark seductive sauce was sweet and sticky with a pronounced sherry flavour. It certainly wasn’t a dish for wimps and one that my ten-year-old daughter polished off with gusto.
Across the table, black truffle, porcini and ricotta mezzaluna (£12.50) was heady with the smell of truffles and bosky wild mushrooms, with roast tomatoes and sage butter adding further layers of flavour to a well balanced dish.
My salt cod and squid ink ravioli (£11) were tucked under a mountain of briny Cornish cockles languishing in a rich shellfish bisque with an unexpected and welcome thwack of chilli heat. The silky pasta had taken on the black colour of the squid ink, each bite revealing a layer of soft salt cod. Green fronds of aggreti – a monk’s beard-like vegetable with a taste not unlike samphire – added an additional salty edge.
There were just two desserts on offer, both simple but delicious. Apart from ‘indulgent and rich’, my notes for my daughter’s Tuscan chocolate torte with hazelnut and mascarpone (£5.50) are sketchy. She virtually inhaled it and I didn’t get more than a mouthful, which says it all.
My pistachio and extra virgin olive oil pannacotta (£4) was refreshing, clean and with the gentle grassiness of the oil working well with the nuttiness of the pistachio. It was an inspired and delicate dessert.
Of course, there was some really good wine, too. From the top end of a short but carefully considered list, the Vallone Vereto Negroamaro 2013 from Puglia (£33) was a warm hug of a red wine – dark, cherryish and super smooth.
For three hungry people not holding back, our final bill of just under £120 before service seemed befitting a meal that impressed at every stage, delivered by faultless, knowledgeable staff who didn’t drop the ball once despite it being the first official night. There may have been a few first-night nerves but it didn’t show.
It created an unprecedented buzz before it opened and it’s the hottest new Bristol opening for months but it more than lived up to the hype. Great food, delicious wine and seamless service – what’s not to love about Pasta Ripiena? Well, apart from the fact tables are going to be so hard to book.