They say no one does pasta quite like the Italians and I guess that would be right.
With food and drink having a strong connection with family life in Italy, it’s no wonder the ritual of having dinner is very much a time for bonding.
The Italian way is not to rush, taking time to catch up with loved ones and friends, so when I visited one of Aberdeen’s favourite restaurants I was delighted that’s exactly what was served up.
I’ve never had the chance to visit Italy but from what I’ve been told it’s one of those places where you fall in love with the people as easily as you fall for the food.
Nestled away from the rush of Union Street on Union Row lies a homely restaurant that has good food is right at its heart.
Rustico has been a favourite of the city since it opened in 2001.
Having stood the test of time, the quaint exterior very much masks the hustle and bustle of the busy restaurant within the rough, stone walls.
Heading out for dinner one Saturday night, my friend and I met on the cobbled street just outside.
Welcomed with a smile, we made our way across the busy restaurant floor as the voices of waiters and guests rumbled and echoed throughout the venue.
After being directed to our seats we were immediately introduced to our server, who quickly made us aware of the various specials available that night, presenting them on a huge blackboard.
The décor is simplistic. The trattoria style ensures an understanding of no frills attached and the red and white checked tablecloths also nod to this.
But simplicity isn’t always a bad thing and when it comes to good food, simple is usually better.
Scanning the menu, a number of Italian classics immediately stood out.
Negotiating our choices, I decided to let my friend have the caprese, even though it was my first choice. After all, we were out to catch up about her engagement announcement so it was only right to let her enjoy it.
Instead, I decided to try out the mozza rococo – buffalo mozzarella cheese with slow oven-roasted mixed peppers and Sicilian pesto.
At first glance the dish looked a little sparse on both mozzarella and peppers when it arrived, especially seeing as my friend’s caprese resembled a small hill, but what it lacked in size it made up in flavour.
The pesto had an incredibly garlicky taste and the basil punch at the end added a nice freshness to the dish. The southern Italian cheese was soft and cut into thick chunks, and the roasted mixed peppers brought a sweet yet slightly sour element to it too.
My friend’s caprese was a beast.
The classic combination of freshly sliced tomato and buffalo mozzarella cheese with basil towered over the plate. It looked delicious and it tasted it, too. The basil was lovely and crisp – I could smell it a mile off.
Looking back on the price, it seemed a little expensive at £7.10 for cheese and tomatoes, but when it comes to good quality sometimes it’s worth paying the extra.
Getting a bit of a breather throughout our courses, we babbled away talking all things weddings. And before we knew it we’d toasted with a glass of fizz and were getting stuck into our mains.
Enjoying what the Italians do best – pasta of course – I tucked into my linguine marinara almost immediately. The smell of the seafood caught my attention instantly and looking down at my dish I knew I was going to enjoy it. Linguine smothered in a tomato, garlic and chilli sauce, I was in pasta heaven. Not a fan of creamy pasta sauces, this rich, fragrant one suited me just fine.
The king prawns were delicious, if a bit of a nightmare to tackle in their shells.
Linguine can be tricky to eat as it is, never mind adding unshelled king prawns into the equation. It’s fair to say my hands were a complete mess after. Completely worth the struggle, my only reservation would be to serve the prawns de-shelled, especially when working with linguine.
However, it was totally worth it.
The red wild shrimp and fresh mussels were so soft and tender and the squid provided a chewier texture to the dish. The pasta was cooked well and with the sauce made for the perfect base for the seafood to be served on.
Topped with some freshly shaved parmesan, the cheese melted into the pasta as I consumed it.
My friend had ordered the pollo alla Milanese, which she also raved about. A huge chicken breast coated with herb breadcrumbs, pan fried and then served with a tomato and fresh basil linguine. The pasta came in an impressive mound on the side.
There were no frills about any of the dishes but it wasn’t the fancy presentation we were there for. All we wanted was good, honest Italian food, and that’s exactly what we got.
Sealing the meal off with one final course, we decided to share the cheesecake of the day, a summer berries vanilla flavour. Topped with blackberries and raspberries, the tart coulis that was poured all over the cheesecake was well suited to the creamy vanilla dessert. The buttery biscuit base crumbled away as we dived in with our spoons. The cheesecake itself was sickly sweet but with the addition of the acidic berry coulis it all balanced out.
The food at Rustico was extremely tasty and for having a busy two-storey restaurant to feed on a Saturday night, the kitchen seemed to handle all the pressures thrown at them flawlessly.
Portion sizes were good – my starter aside – but all in all most were pretty generous.
What I loved most about eating here was the feeling of home and that familiarity and comfort Italian cuisine brings with it. The restaurant isn’t fancy and hasn’t really changed much in the almost two decades it has stood in Aberdeen.
The presentation is simple with no frills or garnish, however, there was nothing wrong with that. The food does all the talking.
These are honest, good people, plating up honest, good food who are giving Aberdeen that little slice of the Mediterranean and the Italian lifestyle.
Attentive without being overbearing, the staff continuously make you feel welcome and the restaurant itself is beautifully rustic with a homely feel.
Address: Rustico, 62 Union Row, Aberdeen AB10 1SA
What we had:
- Mozza rococo
- Pollo alla Milanese
- Linguine marinara
- Cheesecake of the day
For more information visit www.rustico-restaurant.co.uk