THE A-board outside new eaterie Butta la Pasta on London Road proudly lists a TripAdvisor review: “The Most Italian place in Sheffield – 5 stars.”
Whoa, hold on there! You can’t blame the owner for chalking it up but, even by the usual hyperventilating of that website, this is quite some claim. Particularly as it is situated halfway between the best two Italians in Sheffield, VeroGusto and Marco@Milano.
Besides, the chef-patron comes from Penistone not Palermo.
Now normally, as my wife reminds me, I get a little sniffy at Italian restaurants run by non-Italians even though Modern British Cooking acknowledges a debt to the Italian repertoire.
But owner Stephen Ogden is a man after my own heart. He’s fallen in love with Italian cooking, digested it and, declining to go down the pizza, steaks and Artex route, opted for a short menu exploring some of the remoter shores of Italian food.
Take my glorious Tuscan-style papa al pomodoro (£4.50), simply quality tinned tomatoes with sweet local cherry toms soaking good bread with lashings of olive oil and basil. Now where else in Sheffield would sell you that? It was seasoned brilliantly. I’d show you a picture but my camera was playing tricks.
Stephen, aged 38, a former children’s nurse (“I was the one who woke them up after an operation”) is taking this seriously. In another life he’d have been christened Stefano. He brings over a doorstopper of a book, La Cucina, a bible of Italian cookery, to show us the recipe. I notice Elizabeth David’s Italian Food is on a shelf. My Italian bible is The Silver Spoon, I remark. “I’ve got that but it’s pressing a flower,” he says.
Butta is a long thin eating space, a little austere with white walls, a minimum of pictures, bare table tops and, yes, an Artex ceiling left over from previous owners. The only music comes from the kitchen. The name means “throw in the pasta” so it is a little odd that none of the pasta is, as yet, home made. I was so disappointed I went home and made myself some ravioli at the weekend.
My potato and flour gnocchi (£9) is, though, and it’s all I can want, firm but yielding, in a rocket ‘pesto’ and ricotta sauce with toasted pine nuts on top: my ultimate Italian comfort food.
It wasn’t quite perfect. It needed more pepper. There are no condiments on the tables so the waitress had to borrow the kitchen’s solitary grinder and they soon wanted it back.
All of the other mains feature pasta: spaghetti, rigatoni, linguine, lasagne, tagliatelle and orrecheti. Be advised, this is cooked Italian al dente not British al dente, which means it might be slightly more toothsome than you expect.
It didn’t bother my wife who downed her spaghetti Lucia (£10), prawns in vibrant tomato, anchovy and lemon, with enthusiasm. Personally I like it done a minute or so more. Luckily this kitchen does not adopt another Italian custom – serving food tepid.
Stephen is obviously thoroughly enjoying his new life, coming out of the kitchen to chat, taking orders, bringing dishes so the waitress has time on her hands.
He couldn’t do all this socialising if it was just him in the kitchen and Stephen has help, an Italian chef called Sam, and he is from Palermo. So I am not entirely sure who does what.
Stephen makes the focaccia, studded with redcurrants, which is pleasant if dry at the edges. It is served with barely a tablespoon of olive oil and the Gaeta olives we order are a little shrivelled. After that, they’ve run out when the next table orders them and it’s hardly 8pm.
My wife had ordered the antipasto (£4.50), which looked, and was, unexciting: some Parma ham, slices of fontina and griddled yellow courgette presented poorly but redeemed by a very nifty, pliable piadina (flatbread).
We finished with some acceptable cakes, a lemon tart and pistachio loaf, although next time we’ll try the home made ice creams and granitas, and coffees.
It’s BYO and there is no corkage, which takes the sting off paying £3 for fizzy water. Stephen makes his own lemonade.
Butta la Pasta still has some rough edges. I’d get some condiments (Aldi has bargains), stock up on olives and start making some pasta. But we liked it. We paid our own bill, £48.50, but we did push the boat out with three courses.
280 London Road, Sheffield S2 4NA. Tel: 07834 561 808. Web: http://www.buttalapasta.godaddysites.com Twitter: @buttalapasta