Try the new FT.com

June 10, 2011 10:07 pm

Some like it haute: NoLita

  • Share
  • Print
  • Clip
  • Gift Article
  • Comments

The other day we tried a new Italian restaurant called NoLita, which has just opened down the road where we live in central Paris. It is just off the Rond-Point des Champs Elysées in the old drugstore building converted into Fiat’s flashy Parisian showroom. The restaurant on the second floor is part of the carmaker’s campaign to promote modern Italian lifestyle and the food can best be described as trendy Italian nouvelle cuisine.

While tucking in to a plate of spaghetti alle vongole – in this case the spaghetti was green, the clams had been de-shelled and some baby tomatoes had been added to evoke the Italian national flag – the restaurant manager heard me pontificating about pasta. He was sitting alone at the next-door table eating a veal tagliata and shook his head when I suggested you simply could not eat a really top-notch plate of pasta in Paris, or for that matter in London, because of the water. “What gibberish,” he said.

Not so, I replied as I also recounted to him a recent visit to Perugia, where I was given a masterclass on the difference between good and bad pasta. I had checked in at the Hotel Brufani, a lovely old heap of a place at one end of the city’s historic centre.

The restaurant was in an imposing room lit by candles and boasting a huge fireplace. I was the only person there that Sunday evening and an equally large maître d’ fussed around me as I ordered one of my very favourite Italian dishes – tagliolini al tartufo. A brilliant choice, the maître d’ said, especially since the chef prepared this classic dish of fresh pasta and black truffles carbonara-style, with a fresh egg and some bacon.

It was delicious, if a tinge too salty. That was the fault of the bacon. But the pasta was perfectly cooked. “It’s all about the water and the amount of salt you put in the boiling pan,” the maître d’ said.

He then went on to explain why it is so difficult to get a good plate of pasta in London, where he worked in a Soho restaurant for a couple of years. “It’s the water,” he insisted. “It’s simply not hard enough in London and I dare say in Paris too, where you live. Think of Scotch whisky. You can’t reproduce it outside Scotland as it’s all about the water; the same applies to pasta.”

So what can you do about it if you live in London or in Paris? The answer is obvious, he said. All you have to do is buy lots of Italian bottled spring water and use it to boil your pasta. This is clearly not economical for a restaurant, but if you crave a plate of really good pasta it is an investment worth making.

In Paris we always drink bottled water because there is nothing worse than the taste, however light, of chlorine in tap water. This is still the case despite all the city’s efforts to improve the drinking quality of the water – or Château la Pompe as it is invariably called. So the last time I cooked pasta I used a couple of bottles of Evian. My guests could not taste the difference, even though the idea of boiling bottled water gave a certain eccentric allure to an otherwise very ordinary dish. But then, I was not using Italian bottled water. Next time I’ll try San Pellegrino.

ftweekendmagazine@ft.com

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

  • Share
  • Print
  • Clip
  • Gift Article
  • Comments

EMAIL BRIEFING


FT Weekend

Get our newsletter by email each Saturday. Alec Russell, Weekend FT editor, handpicks a selection of the best life, arts, culture, property and news coverage

Sign up now

LIFE AND ARTS ON TWITTER

More FT Twitter accounts
SHARE THIS QUOTE