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Canary Wharf: Why Emilia’s Crafted Pasta is all about combining shape and sauce

Wood Wharf opening for restaurant and bar features table bocce and plenty of dishes to explore

Emilia's makes pasta fresh every day
Emilia’s makes pasta fresh every day – image Matt Grayson

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You’ve seen Hawksmoor’s barge floating in the dock from Montgomery Square. You’re aware Amazon Fresh has a walk-in, walk-out convenience store opposite.

But now is the time to explore a little deeper into Wood Wharf. Water Street, Park Drive, Harbour Quay Gardens and George Street – these are the locations you need in the back of your head. 

Right now it’s the last of these that should be on your radar because, after much pandemic-related delay, Canary Wharf’s emerging residential district has its first bricks and mortar restaurant and bar.

The doors to Emilia’s Crafted Pasta have finally opened at 12 George Street offering Wharfers a place to eat and drink their fill and maybe play on what’s believed to be the first table bocce set in the UK. 

For Andrew Macleod, founder and CEO of the business, which has branches in St Katharine Docks and Aldgate, it’s a welcome sight.

“There were times when I didn’t know whether the day would come – the build took six months,” he said.

“We’ve tried to create a very laid-back, rustic feel, where customers feel a bit of a buzz, a bit of action, but a bit of calm too.

“This is not a big fancy restaurant with lots of finesse. We’ve used natural materials throughout, with various types of wood and a terracotta plaster from Cornwall, to recreate that look you see in Italy alongside tiles from the country itself.

“We also like to pay homage to the local area and what’s here – that’s the reason we have kept a lot of exposed concrete throughout the interior – it’s because that is what this area is about, the big new buildings.

“We’ve even left the builders’ pencil markings on the walls from George Street’s original construction.”

The Wood Wharf branch of Emilia’s – image Matt Grayson

The undisputed chief attraction, however, is Emilia’s dedication to the core dish on its menu – pasta made fresh every day on-site and paired with specific sauces.

It’s a process diners and drinkers at Emilia’s can watch taking place.

“When they come in, they find the premises split into two parts – one a fully open bar and the other a trattoria-style dining area with a fully open kitchen,” said Andrew.

“On one side you can watch cocktails being made and drinks being served and on the other you can see the activity in the kitchen.

“In terms of the pasta, the first thing to say is that all shapes are not made equal. I would never tell people what they can and can’t pair with what – that’s their choice. All I can say is what we do here. 

“In my opinion, and the opinion of many chefs, you can optimise taste based on the geometry of the pasta you use with a particular sauce.

“When we look at different pasta shapes and sauces, we’re trying to make it so that in every mouthful the customer gets a full set of flavours.

“If you’re ever served a bowl in a restaurant and the sauce and pasta have completely separated then you have a problem.

“It could be the pasta hasn’t been made fresh, that the pasta water hasn’t been used in the sauce or that the wrong shape has been used for the pairing.

“What’s vital is getting the sauce to stick – you shouldn’t see sauce at the bottom of the bowl, oil around the side and the pasta on top. 

“I’ve picked three of the dishes we serve to explain why we serve pasta the way we do.”

Pesto with casarecce
Pesto with casarecce – image Matt Grayson

ONE

  • homemade basil pesto, £12
  • pasta – casarecce

“We serve our pesto with casarecce – a strange, twisted shape,” said Andrew.

“It’s a very creamy thin sauce and with this shape of pasta you have lots of twists and turns so, when you mix it in the pan, you get the pesto on every millimetre of the pasta.

“If you had a much thicker sauce, it wouldn’t get into these ridges. There’s also a shape called trofie, which is similar.

“When you serve this sauce with either of these two shapes they pick the sauce up and you get the full set of flavours in your mouth.”

Bechamel bolognese with pappardelle
Bechamel bolognese with pappardelle – image Matt Grayson

TWO

  • bechamel bolognese, £12.70
  • pasta – pappardelle

“This pasta – pappardelle – is like tagliatelle but wider,” said Andrew. “The bolognese or ragu has a lot going on. We cook it for four hours – there’s tomato, vegetables and meat. It’s a very hearty sauce.

“What happens with a big ribbon like that is that everything sticks to it.

“If you take a strand up with all the chunks of veg and meat sticking to it, then you roll that and you eat it, so you have the whole ragu.

“If the pasta isn’t made fresh, the sauce won’t stick so well. Of course, some people like this sauce with spaghetti and I’m not saying there’s only one right way to eat it, but for us this is the combination that works.”

Radiatori with tomato sauce
Radiatori with tomato sauce – image Matt Grayson

THREE

  • tomato sauce with basil, £8.50
  • pasta – radiatori

“The final pasta I want to mention is the radiatori – so-called because it’s shaped like cast iron radiators,” said Andrew.

“I loved the novelty of it – a shape you’re not likely to have seen before – and that’s what we’re about at Emilia’s.

“We’re trying to create a pasta experience which is familiar, but a bit different. We serve our tomato sauce with the radiatori.

“It’s quite thin, but the shape of the pasta is able to capture it perfectly. Then you have small chunks of Mozzarella in the bowl and you need to get one of those with a piece of pasta to get the best from the dish.”

Read more: Discover The Well Bean Co in Royal Docks

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Canary Wharf: Emilia’s Crafted Pasta prepares to open flagship at Wood Wharf

The restaurant and bar is set for the ground floor at 12 George Street and features table bocce

Emilia's Crafted Pasta founder Andrew Macleod
Emilia’s Crafted Pasta founder Andrew Macleod – image Matt Grayson

Five years ago, Andrew Macleod opened the first branch of Emilia’s Crafted Pasta at St Katherine Docks in east London. Following its success he opened a second, larger establishment in Aldgate in 2019.

Born of a passion for good pasta and a desire to bring it to Londoners freshly made, served with a punchy array of sauces and at a reasonable price, the brand continue to grow.

Now Andrew and his team are preparing to launch Emilia’s flagship restaurant at Wood Wharf, with the doors expected to open in November.

That will place his dishes within easy walking distance of the whole Canary Wharf estate, not to mention much of the Isle Of Dogs, for the first time.

“Wood Wharf is an evolved concept,” said Andrew. “Part of what we do at Emilia’s is to keep everything simple and fresh. That’s what we stand by in terms of our food, our business and how we run stuff.

“Whenever we go into an area, we want to be part of it, not impostors. So, what we’ve done with Wood Wharf is to have half the restaurant as more of an all-day bar – for example, there will be a tabletop version of bocce, an Italian game similar to French boules.

“Wood Wharf is going to be a neighbourhood where people come to work, live and enjoy themselves, so what we wanted was the space to be tailored to that.

“For me, that means I want people to walk in, play a bit of bocce, have a drink, a coffee and a catch up, or for them to be hanging out, sitting on a beautiful terrace overlooking the water and the park, eating pasta and drinking cocktails.

“The idea is that you’re coming into a bustling trattoria in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy – a place the whole concept pays homage to, both its food and the techniques used to make it.

“For me, the vision is that we want to bring 100% natural, affordable, fresh pasta to as many people as possible, in a way that respects those traditions, and feels very casual and Italian

“The more we can spread that, the happier I’ll be. We’re not in a rush, we’re not here just to open other branches – we just want to make this one right.”

The Wood Wharf restaurant will feature table bocce
The Wood Wharf restaurant will feature table bocce

The new restaurant will be located on the ground floor at 12 George Street, overlooking Harbour Quay Gardens and the boardwalk along West India South Dock. Inside visitors can expect rustic wooden furniture, plenty of marble and hand-painted tiles.

New dishes are promised, alongside Emilia’s core menu, which offers bowls of pasta costing between £8 and £14 – the Canary Wharf bar is also expected to offer a range of cocktails based on locally sourced fruits and Italian spirits. 

At full capacity, the restaurant will be able to accommodate 100 diners with 70 inside and 30 outdoors.

Andrew said: “For me, launching a pasta restaurant never had anything to do with trends. When I was at university, I loved pasta, but I was really disappointed, because I’d moved out of home and was trying to find good places that did it and the only ones  were big chains.

“About 10 years ago most of it was just frozen and horrible and places were charging £15 a bowl. You could pay £20 and get something a bit more high-end but I felt that didn’t really represent pasta in the way it was traditionally consumed in Italy, informally.

“I thought if Emilia’s could make pasta that was significantly better than what people were having at home in the UK, then we would be in with a shot as a brand.

“At the heart of Emilia’s, from day one, has always been that all our food is 100% natural.

“We make it on-site, start to finish, and anything we source, comes from people who are suppliers of food that I would eat every day at home myself and be proud to do so.

“That’s how we’ve built it, and we’ve never stepped away from that. We started in St Katharine Docks in November 2016. We had some nights in the early days without a single customer, but slowly people discovered us and we built up a following.

A bowl of pasta at Emilia's
A bowl of pasta at Emilia’s – image Matt Grayson

“Then we got so busy we decided to expand. Aldgate came in 2019 and now we have this fabulous opportunity to open in Wood Wharf.

“We want to be at the forefront of showcasing that, as a young brand, without much funding, you can, with tight cost control, a good team and a good culture, build something very meaningful, and we’ve grown organically from day one. Each of our restaurants comes off the back of our previous operation.

“For us, the key thing is that, if you do something sustainably, it should be able to continue for a very long time without damaging the world or the people who are with you.

“Most of our managers have been with us for more than three years. When Covid hit, we didn’t sack anyone, we paid furlough and topped up people’s wages because that’s who we are.

“Emilia’s is like a family, it lives on. It’s got to be that people are coming to work happy, doing their shift and going home happy. That’s our company culture.

“It’s about being able to see that you’re leaving the world a better place for all the people who have been part of the journey – that’s what sustainability is all about.

“When a business is built, you create jobs, livelihoods. You develop people, help them grow and, hopefully, the soil somewhere is better because it gets properly kept as farmers are following sustainable agriculture and processes to make it better. That’s what it’s about, and that’s what we strive towards.

“I’m very excited to be opening this restaurant and that we’re continuing our mission in one of London’s most exciting developments in a beautiful setting surrounded by green spaces and water.”

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