WITH a little bit of luck Marina Whitwam will see this review before her new baby – due to arrive on April 17.
You never know with babies. A little bit of an upset meant that she was unable to take up front of house duties at the dinky Pasta Bar on Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield, and her partner, chef Ryan Christian, stayed with her the night we called.
Marina and Ryan are the new bosses of the Pasta Bar but that needs a bit of qualification.
The little eaterie was started some seven years ago by restaurateur Toni Dente who had the clever idea of offering customers different kinds of home made fresh pasta with a selection of sauces so you could mix and match.
“The menu’s not really changed over the years,” says Marina, who has been there since day one.
Ryan – I was dying to do my Mutiny on the Bounty Charles Laughton impression and say ‘Mister Christian’ – arrived two years later.
The Pasta Bar, with its sparkly black tables, tiled floor and brick-built bar, is the sort of place you pop into at teatime for a quick pasta fix in the weekend or enjoy a more leisurely three-course meal at weekends.
The heart of the menu is the pasta.
The pasta shapes themselves also change.
The machine sits upstairs and when they need to change the shapes they fit new dies. There is currently spirale (twists), linguine, which has replaced spaghetti, and rustico.
Now that’s a new pasta shape on me (and my Italian reference books) and our sweet Spanish waitress was having a hard job explaining it.
“Hang on, I’ll show you when I’ve washed my hands,” says chef of the night Jordan Maloney and came out with some pasta, short lengths with a seam in the middle, which looked a dead ringer for strozzapreti, or priest strangler.
It’s so called because the Italians claim greedy clerics have loved it so much down the centuries that sometimes it chokes them. It’s an Italian joke but I don’t suppose that would go down well in Sharrow Vale.
The various sauces , at least half a dozen, range from ragu and pinoli (cabbage and pine nuts) to salsicca (sausage) and puttenesca, full of olives and capers.
It’s named after the ladies of the night, for whom the dish was a throw-together favourite, before they got up to different kinds of capers.
We started very well. My soup of the day, potato with rocket (£3.95), was really good for such simple ingredients, warming, deftly seasoned and with just the right texture, served up with hunks of home made rosemary bread which has a thick crust and a dense crumb.
According to Marina, they ring the changes on the bread, a different flavour each day.
My wife had the calamari (£5.50), generously portioned, very fresh, crisp on the inside and not a hint of rubber within. “I could have done with a dip, though,” she said.
After all that fuss about the pasta I had the rustico with ragu (£9.25). “It’s one of the sauces we can’t take off. It’s like our signature dish,” said Maria later.
I know. I’ve had it before, a mix of beef and pork cooked down with tomato into a satisfying richness. Although Jordan was quite right when he said the better shape for the sauce was spirali, this did the job well.
I’d have enjoyed it slightly more if the pasta itself was a little lighter but that’s a personal thing.
They do a decent risotto here. My wife’s pea and pancetta (£9.50) was nicely done and she enjoys her risotto any which way it comes although she prefers it to the looser end of the spectrum.
The Pasta Bar is a good example of the best sort of neighbourhood restaurant: not an impersonal chain, independent, and offering something very individual.
So no complaints at all about two desserts at £3.95 each, very competent crème brulee and, of course, a tiramisu.
We weren’t in the mood for a full bottle of wine but there are a few choices by the glass, a reasonable £3.75. The house red is particularly pleasant, soft and fruity.
There weren’t many in on our Wednesday night and the place was a little bit chilly.
That said, the food will give you a warm welcome. We paid £36.10 for food, £7.90 for wine and £3.80 for good coffees.
Offers currently include two for one starters and mains on Tuesdays and Sundays, lunch specials – two people, two courses, £11 – and a children’s menu for a fiver.
270 Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZH.
Telephone: 0114 268 0505.
Open: Tuesday-Thursday 5-10pm, Friday-Sunday noon-10pm. Credit cards. Music. House wine £10.90. Street parking.
My star ratings (out of five):