Founders Claudio Vescovo and Gianluca D’Angelo discuss how they are innovating with pasta just as they have with pizza.
Tell us about Berto.
CV: Gianluca and I have lived in London for more than 10 years now. We are passionate about food, and our mantra is super high-quality food at affordable prices. Three years ago, we launched the first Zia Lucia pizzeria in Islington, where we brought different types of dough to London, with four types of crust. The reception was phenomenal, and ever since we’ve been on a growth journey, and have opened three already, with a fourth on the way.
We had this idea for a long time to bring the authentic way of making fresh handmade pasta to London. A friend of ours has been doing handmade pasta for 25 years, north of Rome. We teamed up and said lets open Berto. We’ve been working for many months on recipes, doughs and pasta shapes. We got a restaurant place, next door to Zia Lucia in Holloway Road. Since we opened [in early September] we have had queues for five days in a row. We are pretty tired but it’s going very well!
Were you encouraged by the success of other quality pasta concepts in the city?
CV: People do acknowledge and understand the speciality and diversity of fresh pasta, compared to dried pasta from the supermarket. The fact some other good places have opened gave us positive feedback – though I think we would have done it anyway.
When you bring high quality food at a good price, you have something which attractive to customers. It’s also different from what others that have opened. We have brought more innovation to the pasta dough, so we have wholewheat, gluten free, all fresh and handmade.
GD: On the pricing point, people tend to compare one to the other, saying it is cheaper or expensive. But people don’t consider two crucial factors. One – the quality of ingredients and recipe itself. There are not comparing apples with apples from an ingredient perspective.
Also the quantity of pasta on the plate is very different from others. At two or three of our competitors, the first thing they say, is you need three of four plates for two people, because the size are not filling for one. For us it’s different. You only need one plate of pasta, rather than two or three, but it costs £9, rather than £5.
What else is on the menu?
CV: What we do, is we want to bring fresh produce from Italy, and also use local products and cook them in an authentic Italian way. For starters we have fresh cheese and cured meat. We are super selective and use small suppliers from different regions of Italy. Some products are not mainstream like cullata – which is one of the most refined hams. Buffalo ricotta, and stracciatella, which is like a melted version of burrata, which is very popular in London. Then we have fried delicacies, like sardines and vegetables, and baked and green vegetables, such as plates of radicchio, asparagus.
Beyond the pasta, we have three deserts, all homemade, such as chocolate fondant.
Are you aiming for an authentic Italian experience? Have you tweaked it for the London customer?
GD: We want to keep the authenticity, the quality and the quantity that you would get in a typical high-quality trattoria in Italy, because that’s our roots, and the experience we want to offer. But with Zia Lucia, and having been in London for 14 years, we also have a good sense of what the local market wants, so we’ve made some adjustments. In Italy we cook the pasta very al dente, but here we give it 30 seconds more, because the customer likes it a little bit more cooked. It’s minor adjustments.
CV: You can’t find this type of experience in Italy, because it’s very regional. We all come from different regions, so bring to the menu different angles. The cacio pepe is a pure Roman dish, whereas in Venice it will be more sardines and vegetables. We are bringing our individual backgrounds and origins which are very specific.
Are restaurants in Italy innovating with pasta dough like you are?
CV: We have seen it but it’s not so widespread. You can find a place in Bologna, where they do amazing wholewheat pasta, but it’s not like any pasta restaurant offers that. Our passion is to put together different things we’ve seen, study them, and develop them for the market here.
Fresh gluten-free pasta is very hard to do. We spent a lot of time developing it. It’s why many restaurants buy dry gluten-free pasta. But for us it’s a must to do everything here, everything fresh, and show people the difference in the taste.
GD: It’s a big differentiator for us. We have done this before in the pizza market when no one was doing different types of dough. In pasta it’s a much more immature market compared to pizza. Even there, nobody does it. Even from day one, we have something which differentiates us.
The reason people don’t do it, is because operationally it’s much more complicated with different flour, different recipes. There’s also a cost implication. There’s more cost to labour and raw material. But it’s a key part of what we want to offer, and how we want to be perceived in the market. If you want fresh gluten-free pasta, no one else is doing it. It’s a big thing to drive traffic to us.
How much development went into the pasta?
GD: We have been working with our partner to master the recipe. The gluten-free pasta has constantly evolved. We will be working on background and R&D, with six to nine months development to get to where we are today. There’s been lots of investment into production to get to quality standards we are happy with. It doesn’t happen overnight. We are working on more recipes which will be ready by end of year, because we’d rather wait until we’re confident in the quality. It’s a barrier to entry. It’s easy to do fresh pasta, but not so easy to do it at a certain quality. The overall product is a combination of the pasta and the sauces, which give us an edge.
What are your ambitions?
CV: We love what we do and are passionate about the product. The reception has been fantastic. London is so big, we think why shouldn’t we bring the product to other areas of London? We love the city, love discovering new paces, different neighbourhoods, and the diversity. We would love to keep growing.
A version of this article first appeared on Food Spark’s sister site MCA. Click here to learn more about the recently released MCA Restaurant Market Report 2019, the definitive report on the state of the UK restaurant industry, together with growth forecasts to 2022.