As a team of self-professed foodies, we at Pasta Evangelists find ourselves waiting eagerly for the day we can venture back into our favourite dining spots, and bask in that restaurant experience once again. We believe there are few instances more satisfying than a meal enjoyed in a restaurant with fantastic food, ambience and service.
In our hour of need, we turn to Pasta Evangelists co-founder and shareholder, Giles Coren, who - in his 27 years working as the Times’ restaurant critic - has developed an understanding of what propels a restaurant to greatness. Our friend and co-founder has kindly shared his expert tips for transforming your everyday dining space into an intimate ristorante, in a bid to satiate our desire to dine out.
When setting your table
When asked what he wouldn't forget when setting the table, Giles couldn't be more emphatic: “One thing you’d never forget when setting the table? Salt! lovely big grain sea salt in a bowl. Always necessary, and rude to have to ask for.” What else does Giles prescribe? A black pepper grinder, and a small bottle of high-quality olive oil - the best you can find, no less! Giles is quick to assert the importance of the latter here, revealing he "pour[s] it on everything, especially pasta."
When designing your table and place settings, Giles also stressed the importance of aesthetics - a key feature of any well-dressed table is flowers. He recommends something small, or unpretentious, perhaps from the garden, or the park: "You're not supposed to swipe cultivated flowers, but three daisies in an eggcup is better than nothing." In lieu of flowers, a simple candle in the centre of a table does wonders for lending that special-occasion atmosphere to a meal.
Finally, Giles finishes his table with wine glasses. “For a restaurant experience, something round and clean is important”, though your glass doesn’t necessarily have to have a stem. And we’re inclined to agree here - having a good, well-thought-out wine pairing with any meal is key to mimicking restaurant dining at home, and a good wine glass is always a key feature of any sommelier’s arsenal. For more information on all things wine, be sure to tune into our Pasta Loves Wine feature, every Wednesday at 7 pm, live on our Instagram: @PastaEvangelists.
When serving your meal
Say you’re dining for a special occasion or looking to impress a certain someone in your household - what principles reside at the core of ‘exceptional service’ in a restaurant?
Giles believes the best restaurant service is one that is not intent on impressing diners, but relaxing them - revealing "that is what makes restaurants stressful and ruins them for me". Serving a drink immediately, alongside a small yet satisfying snack - say charcuterie, cheese, olives or nuts - is a good way to set the tone of a meal, while keeping hunger at bay. "If you've got a little nibble and a drink, you can just chill and chat and when the food is ready it’s ready", suggests Giles - from experience, an elaborate or convoluted meal designed to impress can often prove less enjoyable than a simple, yet well-executed dish shared amongst loved ones.
Rounding off a great dinner
Can you recommend an aperitif & digestif to try at home?
“We're drinking Gin and French during lockdown, which is like a dry martini, but not so strong and with more flavour from the mixer. Equal parts gin and good french vermouth stirred over ice with a twist of lemon zest (no pith).”
For a good dash of Italianità, Giles suggests a ‘Gin and It’ which is, as you may deduce, Gin and Italian vermouth made the same way.
What would feature on your cheeseboard?
For that relaxed, intimate dining experience, you can always rely on a thoughtfully curated cheeseboard to round out the meal. Giles’ cheeseboard is an uncomplicated one, with the restaurant guru featuring only one, good quality cheese:
“If you buy more, then you end up with a load of halves and quarters and nubs that don't get eaten. Keeping cheese properly is hard and we always try to eat what we buy from our local French epicerie - or our good local butcher - on the day we buy it.”
Giles’ picks include: “a little St Marcellin in a terracotta dish, or a truffled gouda, or a slab of Brie de Meux - it all rather depends what [you’re] drinking. I love goat cheese, but it doesn't go with many wines.”
If you're minded to take a more Italian route when preparing your cheeseboard, a punchy 36-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano, fruity and mild taleggio or creamy gorgonzola would make excellent alternatives.
Looking for dinner inspiration?
Since founding the company in 2016, the modus operandi here at Pasta Evangelists has always been that of bringing restaurant-quality food to your home. Simple to prepare, yet gourmet in quality and taste, our pasta delivery service is a perfect way to achieve that intimate, restaurant dining experience we all long for whilst in lockdown. After all, there’s seldom an idea more romantic than that of dining on a rich bowl of pasta, accompanied by loved ones (and wine!). Plus, if we’re being candid, half the joy of dining out is having your meal prepared for you - nobody wants to be a slave to their stove here.
Giles recommends serving our pasta with a simple salad of fresh bitter leaves and herbs, dressed with just oil, lemon and salt, for a delightfully satisfying dinner.
What can I do to support the restaurant industry?
During this time, small restaurants are finding new and innovative ways to feed their loyal customers - support your favourite eateries by ordering delivery - a perfect way to recreate a restaurant experience from the comfort of your home.
Alternatively, be sure to look out for the #RallyForRestaurants dish featured on our weekly menu. As a food delivery company, we feel passionately about supporting the restaurant industry through this uncertain time in any small way we can. Each week, we’ll collaborate with one of our favourite chefs, dedicating one of our regional recipes to them, and donating £1 from each dish sold to the restaurant & their team. Shop this week's offering here.