Al Dente: A Small Pasta Spot Punching Well Above Its Size
Fitzrovia's newest pasta-spot is a pastificio, rather than a straight restaurant: part eatery, part takeaway counter. In trad Italian style you can drop in to Al Dente for a quick plate of pasta, or three-course dinner, or a box or two of fresh takeaway pasta to cook up at home.
It's more suited to the drop-in than the drawn-out dinner. While they've pulled off a design marvel to fit this much seating into the small space, it's functional rather than settle-in-for-the-evening inviting.
Comparisons with Borough pasta kings Padella are inevitable — and there are some obvious parallels. Both spots have a similar modern, stripped-back look and high barstool seating; both have an alike shortish menu, with Al Dente's weighted in favour of Roman pasta classics — the cacio e pepes and the carbonaras — and all of the pasta handmade in-house.
Key differences: you can make a reservation for Al Dente, meaning your cacio e pepe is guaranteed, and not just a fond hope you nurture while you queue for 1.5 hours. And those Al Dente prices are actually a bit deceptive. £7.50's so evidently the price of a Fitzrovia small plate, that it is very, inarguably clear to us that we should be ordering three to four dishes to share between two.
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That's our only mistake of the evening, because the dishes are generous, massively so for this postcode and for this price tag. Hard to think of it as a serious error, because it means we get to hit the cacio e pepe, pumpkin ravioli and one of the daily specials — a sausage, broccoli and potato fusilli dish — and all of them are ravishers in different ways. Prize for most unexpected goes to the fusilli, with the broccoli and potato cooked down into a thick near-soup, creamy-textured but starchy and studded with sausage-y richness.
Every dish is a serious hit of salt and richness, and make for better sharers than sole ventures. Our perfect order at Al Dente is probably one stuffed pasta and one Roman classic, split between two. Also: it is quite important that you save room for the tiramisu.
Desserts, service, wine list, the restaurant's friendly buzz — all of those are living up to the pasta, with the only letdown being some dry, tough focaccia, the only carb of the evening that's less than great.
We aren't going to claim this is the best pasta in London; competition's just so brilliantly stiff now. But when it comes to straightforwardly serving up what you want from a pasta restaurant, Al Dente's punching well above its size and prices.
Al Dente, 51 Goodge Street, W1T 1TG.
Last Updated 20 May 2019