Pasta has long been a favourite amongst households country wide, and yet it is rarely ever star of the show. Even in the nicest of restaurants it can often appear as somewhat of an after thought on a menu, lacking in both imagination and love. Not at Emilia’s; the 35 cover restaurant which opened last month in the tranquil setting of St. Katharine’s Dockyard is a testimony to this humble Italian staple.
Emilia’s Crafted Pasta, named after the region in Italy, was founded by Andrew Macleod who had a simple and yet ambitious dream: to open the best pasta restaurant outside of Italy. It took eighteen months to open Emilia’s, in which Andrew and Genoan head chef, Simone Stagnitto, studied the science behind the very dish that they would be paying homage to and gathered inspiration from chefs all across Italy. Emilia’s is a real labour of love, and you can feel it both in the walls of the intimate and homely waterfront restaurant, and in each and every mouthful of fresh, handcrafted pasta.
The menu is simple and uncomplicated in handwritten font on kraft paper; 3 antipasti and 7 pasta. There is nothing on the menu that you won’t have seen done before, however it’s unlikely you’ll have seen it done quite like this. Simone experimented with generations of family recipes to ensure that the dishes served at Emilia’s are bursting with unrivalled authenticity and as such they do not need to be wildly outlandish or encompass quirky twists. Whilst the sauces are wholesome and tasty, it is the pasta, hand-kneaded in the kitchen every morning, that finally gets the platform that it deserves.
We started with the anti-pasti, which disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived. The combination of finely sliced bresaola (cured beef), rocket and parmesan salad, burrata and toasted ciabatta drizzled in extra virgin olive oil is how I would like to start every meal please. Encouraged to pick and combine, smell, taste, and enjoy every morsel we piled our bread – chewy in the middle with a thick, crunchy crust – high with strips of sumptuous, lightly salted beef, creamy indulgent cheese and peppery rocket and devoured it, mopping up olive oil and black pepper along the way. A true foodie experience, the flavours in themselves are uncomplicated and yet combined they are nothing short of a joy for the senses. Washed down with a glass of Pecorino, lunch at Emilia’s had started with a bang…
When it comes to deciding on the star of the show, expect to have trouble choosing. We had settled on the handmade ravioli, and ooh-ed and ahh-ed between the rest. The lovely waiter, who certainly knew his pappardelle from his rigatoni, recommended one of the restaurant’s best sellers, the bolognese. The ravioli, hand stuffed with organic lamb, parsley and parmesan is positively swimming in a rich butter and sage sauce; I was excited about this one just from reading the menu description, and it certainly did not disappoint. There is nothing not to love about delicate, al-dente carbs oozing with warm, buttery sauce; the dish is indulgent and comforting, exactly as pasta should be. It pairs perfectly with a glass of the Valle Berta Gavi, which has a more floral palate than the Pecorino.
The bolognese, made with a four hour slow cooked sauce containing homemade béchamel, I found a little underwhelming. The sauce is luxuriously smooth, perhaps too much so for my palate; I missed the thickness of a chunky, meaty, rich ragu. I do appreciate that there are different ways of making this Italian classic and my dining companion loved the creaminess of the sauce and subtle flavours of the slow roasted tomatoes though we both felt it was lacking in a little oomph. The parpadelle, an egg based pasta cut into long, thick, flat strips, encases the sauce beautifully.
If you’ve still got room for pudding then order the Lemon cake from the charmingly titled ‘After Pasta’ menu. The combination of zesty lemon and flaked almonds alongside creamy ice cream is the perfect way to end a meal, and actually I would’ve been happy if it had had even more of a tang; I felt the drizzling of sticky-sweet honey was an unnecessary addition. For real decadence, it pairs beautifully with the Palazzina Moscato dessert wine.
Now, it would be naive to review a restaurant solely dedicated to the art of pasta, and not mention it in comparison to it’s rival across the river. The difference between Emilia’s and Padella is two fold, the first is of dining style; at Padella dishes are small and designed to be eaten almost like tapas whereas at Emilia’s portion sizes are hearty and (I would imagine) just like Nonna used to serve. The second is of experience; whilst the pasta is in no doubt stunning, the atmosphere at Padella is a little hectic and after queuing outside for our table I felt that we ought to vacate it with fair haste and the servers had little time to engage in small talk; we were in and out within about thirty minutes.
Dining at Emilia’s is an entirely different affair from the moment that someone takes your coats and allows you time to pour over the menu before coming over to impart impressive pasta-geometry wisdom and wax lyrical about the different regional influences of Italy. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly without being overbearing and little things like not having to ask for water for the table sets the standard high, plus, they have great beards. We enjoyed a good two and a half hours filling our bellies and sipping wine and debating with Andrew how best to make a Carbonara; in this respect, Emilia’s is food not only for the body, but for the soul.
The menu is extremely affordable with pasta dishes beginning at £8 and a glass of wine at £4; this is the kind of place you could take a friend and happily while away an afternoon twirling bucatini and gazing at yachts. The exposed brick work and traditional Italian terracotta tiles create a cosy, homely vibe, off set by sleek marble worktops and hanging pendant lamps; sit at the bar if you want to watch the chefs at work, or at the window to watch the world go by. There is some seating outside and I imagine in the summer the waterfront setting would allow one to pretend they are dining on the Italian Riviera itself…
Unit C3 Ivory House, St. Katharine’s Docks, EW1 1AT; closed Mondays, open midday-2100 Tuesday, Wednesday, midday-2200 Friday, Saturday, midday-2030 Sunday. Bookings Tuesday & Wednesday only.