Pasta J | Upper Thomson

Food site Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow makes Pasta J sound like a casa full of heart, but first impressions can be off putting.

Believe me when I say that you’ll need to seriously want to dine here to be able to dine here, and that’s not a compliment. During dinner service, the staff are overworked and fatigued, and subsequently appear aloof, uninterested and borderline rude. It took approximately 5 to 10 minutes before the staff even acknowledged our presence, and 5 to 10 minutes for us to be seated. There’s no communication between the wait staff either, each telling us different things. You see, Pasta J really doesn’t make it easy for potential diners. In fact, there were a few other walk-ins who were exasperated by the lack of attention.

Pasta J is the brainchild of chef-proprietor John Chan, a former events manager who, like so many, decided to stop whatever they were good at to focus on something they think they love doing. Others open cafes, but Chan wisely was interested in something else: pasta.

Don’t visit Pasta J with the preconceptions that it’s Italian food. Instead, it’s more of a local’s interpretation of what Italian cuisine might be. The result is something not too far from seasoned homecooked western cooking. And while you might be inclined to write Pasta J off because of this exact homecooked feeling, I think there’s a value into local interpretations of foreign cuisines. We needn’t always go for “original” and “authentic”. Fusion dishes like Japanese pasta and Hong Kong baked rice and spaghetti would’ve never have evolved into what they are today if the locals didn’t support such local innovation.

Apparently, everything is made from fresh and natural ingredients. Yes, this is one of those places, you know, mostly organic, gluten free…I’ve never been a fan of the hype around these things.

We started with the Tomato Soup which used a base of beef stock. Served in a mug, it was so rich and intense, it’s almost difficult to believe this didn’t come out of a M&S can. It actually reminded me of the tomato soup I had at the currently closed down The Ascot at The Grandstand. Hearty, homemade and comforting.

Nobody’s going to get a clammy addiction from sampling this dish, especially if you’re going to overcook the lala into oblivion. The clams were rubbery, too much to chew for my liking. With the clams having lost their oceanic salinity from the overcooking, the grey prawns (a wrong choice, in my opinion) were tasked with a job that they simply couldn’t accomplish. The aglio oilio is also tossed with things like streaky bacon and caramelized onions, which did little to bring out the seafood flavor. I confess, I’m a purist but I’m willing to go with it if I can taste where you’re going with this. I ordered the Clammy Addiction expecting the ocean. Instead, I got something more farmville, more rustic.

The Pesto Pasta was not good, in my opinion. I got the pesto, but that’s all I got – a single note. Again the prawns, had they been proper ocean going tiger prawns, could’ve helped anchor the dish.

Just because you have a 15 year-old recipe doesn’t mean you should keep it untouched. Pasta J, I feel, needs a restaurant consultant to advise on refining the recipes a little to manage customer expectations and on the frontline service side. As a chef-proprietor, you don’t have the time to manage impressions, and that, and not your story, is the most important thing for customers.

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