Interview with an Innovator

Trullo’s Tim Siadatan: ‘Pasta is up there with fine dining, and it doesn’t need to be expensive’

Experimenting with new dishes, potential expansion plans and the continued relevance of Jamie Oliver.

26 October 2018
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Siadatan on Paper – CV

  • Was among the first flock of youngsters to benefit from Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen scheme
  • Worked at Fergus Henderson’s St John for two years, before moving onto a stint at London stalwart Moro
  • Opened his first restaurant, Trullo, with Jordan Frieda in 2010, followed two years later by Padella

Tim Siadatan has become a pasta-making legend in London. Getting his culinary start with Jamie Oliver at his chef academy from the age of 18, he knew two weeks into the course that cooking would be his lifelong focus.

The chef is now the face of two of London’s most accomplished pasta restaurants, mixing nose-to-tail cooking with Italian ingredients and techniques. He is fearlessly experimental, to the extent that only one in 10 of the dishes he produces in his test kitchen work. When they are a success though, they are a sensation, as is the case with his signature beef shin ragu.

Siadatan is keen to ensure accessibility and affordability at his venues, particularly Padella. “You can get gnocchi for £4 and a glass of tap water and be out with VAT on top for £5,” he says. “I don’t know anywhere that’s doing that for the same quality.”

Queues are the norm at this reservation-free restaurant, where the best chance of nabbing a spot is to arrive at 11.30am and queue for the midday opening.

Siadatan sat down with Food Spark to talk about his approach to creating innovative dishes while keeping prices as low as Pret.

 

We’re doing what Italians have been doing for a long time. Wherever they found themselves across the Roman Empire, they just used what was there and they adapted their lifestyle.

We have this amazing smoked eel that we get from Cheshire, and you don’t get it in Italy, but that’s fine because we can get it here. To prepare it for an Italian pasta dish, I go off my time at St John, where you get kippers, put them in cream, let it infuse for 20 minutes, beat it up, and it's delicious. We get the eel, infuse it, make an eel stock, then add fettuccine, and it’s really warming and nice. That one worked, but you don’t always get that with experimentation.

St John transformed the way I approach food. The farming and the cooking techniques, I think they fundamentally changed me as a person. I probably learned more there than I’ve learned anywhere. I still feel that it’s one of the great restaurants in the world, and I feel very privileged I got to work there.

Italian regional food culture is very distinct. If you look at towns, villages or even certain streets of Italy, there are people producing food their way, in their own microclimates. It’s ingrained into them, that’s how it is. It’s what fascinates us the most about Italy, the incredible diversity. You can speak to anyone on the street and they have an opinion about food and it’s totally valid.

We have an agreement that nothing will go on the menu unless we [Siadatan and business partner Jordan Frieda] both agree. As the years have gone on, we’ve got into spats about that. At Trullo, I’d always be putting stuff on, so now we have it clear and it’s better for our relationship.

Some things we can’t put on the menu... because we don’t have enough hands or enough time to do it. At Padella, they’re serving 500 covers a day, so you can’t do some things. At Trullo, the size of the space is also a limiting factor.

Tagliatelle sausage ragu

With pasta, you’ve got to use good products, whether that’s the eggs or the flour. Make sure you’re using good durum wheat, and if you’re using eggs, you definitely need to use good quality eggs, otherwise don’t bother making the pasta.

Don’t cut corners when you’re rolling pasta by hand if you’re making fresh pasta. When you put it through the machine, you’re still kneading it and working the gluten. You can squeeze it all through at once, but then you find the gluten hasn’t been worked properly, so you get chewy pasta rather than silky and delicate pasta.

When you’re cooking pasta, always keep the cooking water you’ve cooked the pasta in. Use a little bit to loosen down the sauce, and then really stir it and work it through the pan with a wooden spoon or some tongs to work the starch and the gluten off the pasta. Then you’ll have a nice mix, as opposed to what you see in the Goodfellas movies – the pasta with the meatballs on top! For me, you want the sauce to be really combined with the pasta so each mouth fall has the same balance of sauce and pasta.

Maybe next year some time [we’ll open another restaurant]. But until we’ve figured out a couple of extra things at Padella, I’m a bit hesitant. Also, we don’t know how bad Brexit is going to be. One thing we’re sure of is we’re not on some crazy expansion plan.

We’d never do another Trullo. The only thing we might do is something like [Padella], but nothing is planned. We could see us in central, in Hackney, where I live in Queen’s Park, so there’s not one place where we’re like, ‘we have to go there.’ There’s pros and cons to it all, but [London is] a great city – that’s why there are so many people opening restaurants here.

For Padella, we’re still really focused on pasta. Pasta is an affordable product: it’s eggs, flour and water. The sauces put the prices up but not that much, and it can be one of the most incredible meals you can ever have. Pasta is up there with fine dining when it’s right, and it doesn’t need to be a crazy-ass expensive product.

We have the best Parmesan, we work with farmers to get the best potatoes... we work with a mill to get the best flour and we get the best nduja, because we work directly with farmers.

We wanted to open up somewhere that was in an affordable format. We don’t make as much money at Trullo as we could do because we are focused on keeping the price points down. We love the fact that a 20-year-old could bring someone in on a date, have a sophisticated meal and be in and out for 25 quid a head. But also, at the higher end, if you want you can have a full-blown five-course meal and easily spend £100 a head.

We felt that if everything is getting more expensive, let’s go and make this cheaper without ever compromising on quality or product. But let’s get it into somewhere where people can come and eat and pay the same price they pay at Pret. That is a main driver of what we’re about. We have a strict guideline of how we want the menu to be, and we lose a lot of money on dishes because of it.

Overall, our pricing balances itself out. It is a profitable business, but we feel we’ll have longevity if we stick to those guidelines, and we feel the customer experience is 10 times better. It goes back to the original part of our business, which is we are creating this place for people’s happy time, and part of that is that anyone can come and eat here.

Too many restaurant openings drive up property prices in a way that is unsustainable. There aren’t enough good staff to fill those restaurants. Those are the major issues, but there are 7m people here, a large chunk of that disposable income people want to spend on food, so it’s a great city to trade in.

Growing up, I wasn’t saying I wanted to become a chef. But now I’ve gone the route I’ve gone, I realise it is all part of my conditioning. My grandma was a great cook, so I think the combination of it all was the foundations of my career. But there wasn’t one thing that inspired me to say, ‘this is what I want to do.’ I only realised that when I was 18 years old.

Jamie Oliver is still incredibly relevant. He might not be at the forefront of the London restaurant scene, but he still has continuity when he takes a stand for the really important things. He is responsible for – not single-handedly – but he is the lead role in changing the way British people approach food. And he has influenced a generation of people and he’s about to influence another generation of a whole nation.

Am I surprised some things didn’t work out? No, I’m not, because it happens to all of us. Any business goes through ups and downs, and I think overall he is insanely successful. But I don’t think it’s through a lack of integrity or that he has become irrelevant and the brand’s got too big. I just think it’s not going to work all the time, but overall it’s working out. He continues to be a loud voice and a big inspiration to a lot of people. He’s doing way more than a lot of people in his position, because he could just sell out and be all about the money all the time – he’s not. He doesn’t need to do the campaigns for children and obesity, he doesn’t need to do the campaigns for school dinners, but he continues to do it.

I think Jamie’s a remarkable person. Restaurants will come and go and chefs will come and go, but he will still be there. I think they’re going to get under the bonnet and figure it out and I think he’ll come bouncing back.

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