REVIEW: Pastaria keeps it casual
Perhaps it was the smell of garlic and butter as soon as we opened the door - or maybe the jaunty Italiano soundtrack.
It could have been the complimentary olives that were deposited on the table before we’d ever properly sat down, or the cheerful mural painted on one wall.
But walking into Kia’s Pastaria on Abbeydale Road, it was hard not to turn our sourpuss frowns upside down.
It was hard to tell before arrival what the situation would be -with only a newspaper advert to go off, our information was sadly lacking, but it was too late to turn back.
The one thing that was known - from the name - was that they did pasta, and plenty of it.
Chef Kia Sadatmandi, bustling away in the open kitchen, is Iranian but has cooked Italian food for more than 20 years, including stints at Sheffield haunts Antibo, Piccolos and San Lorenzo,
Now he has finally been able to branch out alone, opening eight weeks ago.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but it is a matter of timing and money, then the opportunity just came up”, he said.
“I wanted to do something a little bit different and that’s why I wanted to do pasta in a casual place where everyone can come and enjoy their meal - nothing too complicated.
“People go out and they pay a lot of money, they get not a lot of food on their plate - if it is a birthday or an anniversary then you want to take your partner to a Michelin starred restaurant but that’s going to happen once or twice a year.
“Sometimes you just want to go somewhere casual with your friends and share a decent sized meal without it being too expensive.”
Some might wonder why the focus is not on Iranian food.
Kia said: “I’m touching 40 so half of my life I have been cooking Italian food. The quality of Italian food is great, it is very simple and it is fresh, I do believe food in some ways has gone too far.
“I think food is blessed - I don’t think that chefs should play that much with food.
“It should have a good taste, good quality and an honest price.”
Kia’s right about two things - this restaurant is not reinventing the wheel. All the Italian favourites are there, lasagna, meatballs, plus plenty of his speciality - fish - and specials for those who aren’t a fan of pasta.
There’s gluten free mains and starters available, and the simplicity seems to be working as the restaurant was packed with groups of friends and families on a midweek evening.
Also, the portion sizes mean it must be impossible to leave hungry, more of which later on.
There’s a bright feel to the place, and it emerges that the decor contains items aimed at making it more than homely than other spots.
“My scooter is parked outside, my cooking books are just there”, said Kia,
We ordered pinot grigio to wash down those, very decent, olives as merlot isn’t what comes to mind when pondering Italian wines.
A starter, also gluten free, of baked aubergine was a fine beginning.
Every touch of the fork revealed a new layer of different sauce - bechamel, dolce latte, rich tomato and even more cheese with mozzarella and Parmesan bulging out.
I scraped every blob up with a crisp triangle of bread. The vegetable - tricky to cook - was soft without being slimey and the whole dish felt comforting. His calamari (also £6.50) were cooked well in a light batter with contrasting tartar and sweet chilli sauces.
The side salad had a pleasant vinagerette to it as well.
Mains obviously had to be pasta based - when in Rome.
His lasagna came recommended by our superb waitress - tasked with serving the entire restaurant on her own, she was attentive and quick.
The £10.50 dish was belly busting, oven baked and so steaming hot that it couldn’t be eaten for a good few minutes. He tried occasionally and succeeded only in burning his tongue.
Once cooled, it proved to be an incredibly richbeef ragu, the kind everyone dreams of making at home instead of well defined layers of mince.
And was there cheese - every forkful was covered in a mixture of parmesan and mozzarella. It was too much to finish all in one.
We shared garlic bread, again the type sought by home cooks every where.
Triangles of crispy-on-the-edges bread soaked in just enough of the good stuff. My fettucine was ideally al dente and looked a treat, all specks of fresh black pepper, parmesan and herbs on top.
There was plenty of chicken but less of the pancetta, which needed a little searching for among the strong, simple sauce with indulgent cream, wine and tomato.
Torte fella momma - translation: mother’s cake - was my highlight. A crunchy outer case, apparently pine nuts, contained tart lemon cream and was presented prettily on the plate with tiny touches of strawberry, chocolate and lemon sauce for £4.50.
Yes, this may be playing it a safe, but sometimes there is nothing wrong with old favourites, done well with fresh ingredients.
We paid £48.50 including two glasses of wine, although you can take your own with corkage.
Kia’s Pastaria, 759 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield
Tel 0114 2501111