Berto opened earlier this year on Holloway Road; a pasta restaurant from neighbouring pizza place Zia Lucia. ‘Berto’ is the nickname of a pasta maker owners Claudio and Gianluca know from Ronciglione, a little north of Rome, where he has been doing his thing for over 20 years in his own pasta shop. At Berto, pasta is made daily from different flours, similar to the pizza you’ll find at Zia Luca. Italian food to me is a little like buffalo fried chicken and isolation on a hangover: it’s always necessary. I invite my pasta loving vegetarian friend to join me for dinner as we sit at the bar, where the chefs are cooking steaming pans of pasta.
A stickler for good lighting, the first thing I notice is how bright the restaurant is, that kind of white light that makes you feel as though you are truly exposed, as if the dentist is about to say “okay, now gargle”. We order a round of Negronis while reading about the different options for the pasta: vegan, fresh egg, whole-wheat, gluten free. We share everything, starting with the fritti trio of vegetables. Large shards of carrot, sweet potato, asparagus and aubergine are lightly battered, the squeeze of fresh lemon cuts through the fat nicely and adds a needed zing. The vegetables are still firm, and the batter doesn’t soggily flop away from the wet vegetable, as is common. The buffalo ricotta with chestnut honey and mint, champions a healthy chunk of ricotta, overall harbouring a farm-like flavour. A calm start to the meal.
We order a bottle of red and tuck into our pasta, cacio e pepe and a ravioli of buffalo ricotta with butter, sage and lemon. Both pasta dishes have the perfect amount bite, just as they should. The fat pieces of ravioli are filled with light, creamy ricotta and covered in the simple buttery sauce. Our second ricotta dish leaves the same impression as the first, leaving me craving a little more flavour. I hear Italian friends in my head “well…it’s supposed to be simple”. Perhaps I’m just not that in love with Ricotta. But then again, my relationship with cheese is one of the longest standing in my life. The cacio e pepe, on the other hand, is a lovely hill of pasta, with a blanket of Pecorino Romano cheese and a good dusting of cracked black pepper. It’s exactly as it should be: simple, satisfying and substantial.
For pudding we order the crema mascarpone with chocolate and biscuit, which arrives as a big mound of mascarpone with some grated chocolate, and the fondente al cioccolato that’s rich and indulgent. Desserts were pleasant but alas forgettable.
Berto is the kind of place that’s there to make the locals happy – a nice little neighbourhood restaurant to gather with friends and have a bowls of pasta and bottles of wine. It’s not ground-breaking, but it doesn’t need to be.
Berto can be found at 155 Holloway Road, London, N7 8LX.