Food: 9 Drink: 9 Atmosphere: 9 Overall: 9
Pasta Ripiena is a natural beauty; the effortlessly cool best friend; the girl next door. Holding its own on a side street in the city centre, this restaurant doesn’t need to try to fit in. Nestled among high rise offices just off busy Baldwin Street, it brings all the olive oil-doused, rambunctious spirit of the Italian coast to your plate.
Scrawled in yellow chalk by the front door, the phrase ‘from Lago di Como to Bristol’ pretty much embodies the spirit of Pasta Ripiena. The sister to highly esteemed Pasta Loco on Cotham Hill, it is unsurprising that on a random Tuesday lunch time, Pasta Ripiena was doing stellar business, with couples and families swirling luminous glasses of Aperol Spritz to the tune of Pass the Dutchie and August-hot reggae hits. The restaurant’s simple décor is warm and charming, with simple paper and twine cupping lights dangling from the ceiling, and ears of corn sticking out of little milk bottles on tables.
I’d been gunning for a trip to Pasta Ripiena since its opening in April 2018, so when my mum announced she’d be visiting and willing to take me out to lunch, I had booked a table pretty much before we’d finished the conversation. Having extensively exhausted the evening menu by salivating over it for a couple of weeks, arriving to discover a special lunch time selection was a pleasant surprise and one that would not disappoint. For me, there are fewer lovelier things than a compact menu – it oozes confidence, immediately putting your taste buds in the loving hands of the chefs at work. As the name suggests, Pasta Ripiena’s USP lies in the pasta’s full bellies (ripiena meaning ‘stuffed’ in Italian). Call me a cynic (or an arrogant food snob), but I was slightly skeptical of a restaurant’s ability to produce a properly varied menu whilst adhering to a ‘stuffed only’ rule. Turns out that my skepticism was altogether misjudged, and the chefs more than proved me wrong (shock).
Pasta Ripiena’s lunch menu ticks a lot of boxes. Three options for main pasta dishes: veggie, fish, meat – simple. Antipasti of succulent green olives in rosemary and fresh lemon (£3), freshly baked focaccia (£3) and razor-sharp slices of sheep’s cheese topped with unctuously honeyed dried figs (£5) set the tone for our feast, and accompanied by a crisp glass of Italian Pecorino (no I’m not drunk, that’s a type of wine not more cheese), we were all happy as Larrigio. Opting for the two-course lunch deal at £14.50, I tucked into my starter whilst simultaneously grazing through the table’s sharing plates. Competition was so hot on the menu and indecision was so rife that I went over the words “Italian tomatoes with mint, hazelnuts and goat’s curd”, and “Iberico pork bavette” until they had lost all meaning. While the two put up a pretty good fight, I’m a sucker for seafood, opting for some ridiculously juicy, red prawns in sizzling charcoaled shells, and drowned in a herby, garlic sauce.
As with any restaurant in my opinion, it’s pretty much a necessity to go here with people whose food you can steal. I cannot imagine the agony of sitting opposite a plate of food in Pasta Ripiena whose depths I couldn’t muscle my fork into from across the table. As it happened, I was eating out with two others, both relatives – ideal for a menu with three main courses. First up came the triangoli (effectively a stuffed pasta triangle) of luscious, creamy ricotta and Amalfi lemon, with pine nuts and mint. As the winter months slowly draw to a close, this dish was a peak into the promise of springtime eating. Vibrant, zesty and fresh, and one of the lightest pasta dishes I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. Next was a brown crab ravioli (…which is ravioli) tossed in a mascarpone, chilli sauce and jaggedly crowned with mussels. The third plate brought a heavy dose of the searing Italian summer to our table – a perfectly matched fennel and pork filling for the homemade pasta, in a fiery ‘nduja sauce. Having stuffed ourselves like the plump pasta parcels on our plates, a small dose of sweetness would see us on our way. One scoop of vanilla bean gelato - whilst beautifully smooth - was slightly shown up by its neighbouring hazelnut and extra virgin olive oil panna cotta. In lieu of pudding, I opted for a post-lunch pick-me-up in the form of a speciality Amaretto liqueur with a wedge of lime, on ice. This tipple avoided the cloying side of standard Amaretto, and was the ideal end to a fantastic meal.
Pasta Ripiena is a restaurant built to while away an afternoon in, sipping on a crisp glass of Gavi, and escaping the bustling fumes of the city centre outside. The atmosphere is one that immediately makes you feel at home, as you listen to the chefs laughing while they roll out fresh gnocchi and stir pans of ragú in preparation for service. Following (and matching) Pasta Loco’s iconic status was never going to be a stroll in the park, but in the same relaxed way that these guys serve up superb food, they seem to have taken on the challenge with ease and style. Bristol has once again struck gold with these two restaurants and I’m sure that their future holds nothing but success.