The Zia Lucia pizzeria is one of the few restaurants to have made a dining destination out of unlovely Holloway Road. Now it has expanded next door with Italy’s other great culinary gift to the world with this pasta specialist whose cheery yellow frontage brightens a workaday stretch of the A1.
Things are just as bright inside thanks to a skylight that lets in natural light during the daytime, although we found the evening lighting a little too bright, making the simply decorated dining room feel functional rather than cosy, though it does mean the chefs in the open kitchen can see what they’re doing, as can the diners who sit up at the counter watching them.
As at Zia Lucia, the homemade pasta comes in wholemeal and gluten-free options as well as the traditional egg and flour version. We preferred our punchily flavoured strozzapreti with sardines, datterini tomatoes and parsley to tonnarelli cacao e pepe, which could have been a little warmer and a lot cheesier.
Other pasta plates include a vegan pici aglio, olio and pepperoncino, a veggie fettucine with butternut squash velouté and semi-dried tomatoes, and meaty tagliatelle with slow-cooked beef ragu.
Starters include sautéed Wye valley asparagus (not perhaps the most seasonal of autumn ingredients) with Parmesan shavings, and deep-fried aubergine and beef polpettine, rather like the Dutch bitterballen. Slightly uninspiring desserts such as chocolate fondant or ricotta and chocolate cannelloni (both on the dry side) suggest it might be better to fill up on carbs here.
Still, it seems churlish to criticise when prices are more than reasonable (£8-£13 for full-size pasta dishes) and the whole place hums with a good-natured cheerfulness, from the brightly patterned Umbrian-style pottery to the welcoming and friendly staff.
There’s nothing life-changing on offer here, but that’s not what Berto is setting out to do. It’s the sort of well-priced local, open all-day, every day, that everyone wishes they had on their doorstep – just like you might hope to find in Italy, in fact.