If this pandemic were to be defined by a food, it would without a doubt be pasta. It all began at the end of the pasta-as-comfort-food season.
You know, those days when it’s getting dark at 4pm and all you can really comprehend is going home, cooking a huge bowl of penne, adding something creamy/cheesy/spicy and diving in? Perhaps it’s just me.
Then March came, and with it the great pasta shortage of 2020, when shoppers panicked at the thought of going without the stuff for a meal or two, and piled trolley after trolley high with packets of our beloved carb; much of which, I imagine, will still be being eaten from the back of the store cupboard by late 2050.
This reaction is a fine statement about our country’s coping mechanisms, and leads me to believe that pasta fulfils a broader role than simply sustenance for many of us. Pasta is comfort. Pasta is the failsafe, the back up plan. The food everyone’s always pleased to hear is on the menu. Pasta means (in some way) happiness – from slurping piles of dripping noodles to squishing as many pieces of fusilli on a fork as you can. The stuff comes in bowtie shapes, for goodness’ sake – how could we not love it?
Fans of pasta (myself included) jumped for joy at the opening of Sarto in late 2019. This was the joint venture from champions of pints and roasts, The Brunswick, and legends of coffee and brunch, Laynes. Its USP? Fresh, handmade pasta. Piles of it. With a rotating menu of pasta dishes, a series of smaller plates and a great choice of drinks. Quality was at the heart of it all – seasonal produce, vegan-friendly options, a lovely open-plan space and flavour combinations that had diners sitting in awe for hour after hour.
When the ‘c’ word happened – and I should clarify that I mean Covid-19 – Sarto began offering DIY pasta kits so diners could recreate the experience at home. This was short-lived, however, and many were left wondering what the future would be for Sarto. Would we ever bite into one of their signature arancini again? Was a world without their truffle butter campanelle a world worth living in?
Luckily, we didn’t have to worry for long. Sarto appeared on Deliveroo a few weeks back, and the pasta lovers of Leeds breathed a collective sigh of relief. And when Friday (now known imaginatively as ‘takeaway day’ in our flat) rolled around again, I knew exactly which URL I was heading for.
Sarto’s delivery menu is simple but effective – much like the one they serve face-to-face. Four antipasti, four mains and two puds, plus several wines and soft drinks if your whistle is in need of wetting. We start with lemon and thyme arancini (rich and creamy, offset with a fresh, citrusy kick), focaccia (you know how good fresh focaccia is; I won’t take you for a fool), and olives (I refer you to the previous parentheses).
Our mains come in the form of lamb shoulder sugo rigatoni, and the aforementioned campanelle with wild mushrooms and truffle butter. One of my favourite things about Sarto is the abundance of exquisitely named pasta shapes, the likes of which one does not generally find on the shelves of your local supermarket. The menu extends my pasta education with ‘radiatori’ and ‘buccatini’, which I will be trying next time. The lamb is rich and tender, but the real star of the show is the campanelle, with its earthy, truffly edge brought to life with soft mushrooms and a generous (optional) sprinkling of parmesan.
Because we’re feeling indulgent – and because when in lockdown… – we order a torta caprese (Italian chocolate and almond cake) for dessert. It arrives like all the best things do – with its own personal tub of mascarpone, which we smother it with and dive in. Intense cocoa flavours combine with a deceptively light texture to leave us unable to move for a while, but it’s totally worth it.If I haven’t sold Sarto to you by now, I don’t know what will. Go and order their delicious pasta now.
Photographs by Kate Ryrie.