Tom’s Pasta, Hackney Downs Studios, 17 Amhurst Terrace, London E8 2BT
Tom's Pasta: Garfield-grade satisfaction
Hang on. A restaurant in what feels like a trading estate defined as ‘studios’, furnished with natural wood, exposed air vents, a fridge full of indie cans and natty wine on tap? You can bet your precariously-balanced beanie we’re in Hackney. Championing breezer-blocks of lasagne throughout the colder months before moving on to a wider menu as the sun returns to kill us, Tom’s Pasta seems like exactly the thing I need now that the intensifying rain has revealed a hole in my boot. Arriving cold to a warm restaurant, wetter than an otter's pocket and critically low on blood sugar because I still insist on intermittent fasting, conditions are perfect.
A penchant for liberal use of the cheese where at all possible, Tom’s sourdough and Parmesan butter would seem obvious. Unfortunately, the bread is a bit tired and the butter tastes unadulterated. The buttery garlic bread, however, has been thoroughly blessed- it's the treatment that knackered bread demands. And of course, finished with a healthy dose of Parmesan.
All around I’m seeing these absolute units covered in cheese, resembling sections of tower blocks in a blizzard. Sheer stature aside, the beef shin ragù within is not just truly excellent, but a welcomed departure from the usual Bolognese. So much so in fact, that this is a direct plea to Tom: please serve it on your buttery garlic bread, a la QCH as a dish in its own right. Maybe a Sloppy Joe. You can taste the time that’s been put into it, although I realise it’s the bare minimum a ragù or even a Bolognese asks of you, it’s accomplished cooking nonetheless. The depth of flavour and seasoning carries with the generous layers of silken bechamel and the whole thing has been given the rest it deserves, but doesn’t always get. This allows a fusing that enables a clean, revealing swipe through every layer, top to bottom.
The ‘nduja iteration by way of compensation goes heavier on the bechamel than the beef, but rights itself with the omnipresent smolder of the sausage. Both lasagnes are classed as break-up food. Which happens to be very convenient, as the friend joining us is going through exactly that. Attacking his slab as if the antidote is in it, I can see his serotonin returning until there is nothing on the plate but shavings of Parmesan to dab up with a finger.
A digestif consists of all three desserts. The tiramisu is not quite a pick-me-up but not a total put-me-down, either. The ladyfingers are sodden mush, but the mascarpone is luscious, glowing with yolk and just sweet enough. The chocolate sorbet is firm-handed with cocoa and far smoother on the tongue than it appears. The pistachio gelato, whilst a little too cold, is lustrous and as delicious as the off-khaki colour implies. The espresso martinis are thin but definitely not stingy on the booze. Unfortunately without that velvety body to it, it’s more like a spiked cold brew and appears to be more froth than drink.
Despite an experience not quite plainly sailed, I’m enticed to go back because when down to the brass tacks, Tom’s Pasta is very good. It satisfies the unique pangs that only lasagne inflicts and so in all fairness, it's a huge gamble of faith to put into the hands of a stranger that essentially paid off. Bumping into him as we leave, Tom excitedly reels off what his upcoming menus will showcase. He’s just as warm as you’d hope someone doing comfort food of this stature to be. Had I met him before eating his work, I’d be steeled with confidence because of this interaction alone.
If you can tell how much someone cares about you by how they go about making you a cup of tea, then to me this logically extends to pasta. And Tom’s passes this adhoc yet deathly-serious test. He is clearly a man in love with what he does, which is something I’ll back to the hilt. If this is what he’s doing for the gloomier months (which I love anyway) I’m genuinely intrigued as to how he’ll plate the coming seasons.