Just when I was finding my feet in the Bristol restaurant scene, a flurry of new openings has swept me happily off balance. One new opening is Pasta Loco, set up by cousins Ben Harvey and Dominic Borrell, who perform a kitchen and front-of-house double act. The restaurant is partly a tribute to their Italian grandfather, but is overwhelmingly a celebration of the joy that a bowl of fresh pasta can bring. In fact, the whole operation feels like a celebration - flutes of fizz are passed around to apologise for a glitch in the booking system, family and friends drop in to say hello, photos are snapped, friendly staff stop a-while to chat.
From the wooden benches to the lampshades made of paper bags, Pasta Loco is a lesson in simplicity, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the menu. The main courses comprise of just five different varieties of pasta, each freshly made that day. The sauces prove that a few basic ingredients, when cooked with care and respect, produce the most delicious, evocative flavours. There is the comfort of cream and pepper coating fat strands of bucattini and the freshness from peppery rocket pesto. And, cradled by the waves of frilly campanelle, there is a tomato and olive sauce that evokes the fragrance of abundant, sun-ripened Mediterranean gardens.
More complex sauces often involve seafood or meat. A smoked haddock chowder is flecked with pearls of orzo, while an extravagant take on carbonara features pork belly and a lardo-wrapped egg. Our favourite is a goat ragu cooked down until the tender meat falls apart amidst broad ribbons of pappardelle that glisten with deep, rich meat juices. The sweetness from accompanying cavolo nero completes the intensity of the dish. Moments before we finish, something wonderful happens: we are brought hunks of focaccia 'for the sauce'. Needless to say, our plates are wiped clean.
The pasta is undoubtedly the star of the show, but it is bookended by delicious, delicate starters and desserts. Slices of peach and streams of courgette are adorned with hazelnuts and edible flowers; a sweet-soft aubergine caponata is ringed by mellow robiola and more robust, earthy artichoke; salt cod mousse with croutons is given a punch by capers, balsamic vinegar and bell peppers.
To finish, we share the ‘squashed’ chocolate cake - a dense, dark torte decadently paired with salted caramel ice-cream, which is transformed from a clomp to a caper on the palate by a slick of vibrant, aromatic cardamom sauce. And then, just as we think the meal is drawing to a close, a batch of Dominic’s Negroni is made up and brought to our table. Evidently the night is still young at Pasta Loco, where the celebration - of good food and of good company - is just beginning.