Assaggini, Glasgow G12: ‘Until now, I thought “bad pizza” was a contradiction’ – restaurant review

<span>Assaggini, Glasgow G12: ‘The menu is irresistible, which makes the fact that they cannot cook any of it a huge source of dismay.’</span><span>Photograph: Richard Gaston/The Guardian</span>
Assaggini, Glasgow G12: ‘The menu is irresistible, which makes the fact that they cannot cook any of it a huge source of dismay.’Photograph: Richard Gaston/The Guardian

Finding hot new ways with pasta isn’t easy, but at Assaggini in Glasgow, they are confident that they’ve nailed it. Have you tried eating it on much smaller plates? Yes, these are words you’ve seen before – carbonara, gnocchi, spaghetti – but in tinier portions and with an onus on sharing them with the ones you love. Or perhaps the ones you no longer love, after you’ve split a plate of ravioli filled with chianti-braised beef with them, lingered while telling a story and found yourself left with just the brown butter and sage sauce.

But if you can play nicely and share like a grownup, Assaggini is a lovely idea. The menu is genuinely exciting: 13 types of pasta and each one matched with a potential beer pairing. The carbonara goes with a St Mungo, a Glaswegian premium helles lager, while the ravioli is paired with Munich Red. These artisan ales are from West, an independent Scottish brewery that works in accordance with Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law of 1516. Touches such as this, plus Assaggini’s lengthy list of pizzas, salumi, fritti and salads, make this whole affair feel like a futuristic Pizza Express built for a brave new world.

On paper, it’s a vast all-day restaurant with a menu that solves all of your problems when feeding even the pickiest group. There’s pasta with straightforward tomato sauce and crocchetta di patate with spicy mayo for the less adventurous. Alternatively, you can lose yourself in the menu with its maps, diagrams and delicious-sounding combinations, and go wild – girasoli, sunflower-shaped pasta stuffed with fresh ricotta and black truffle and served with pistacchio di Bronte maybe, or a round of frittatina, deep-fried pasta with mortadella?

The menu is irresistible, which makes the fact that they cannot cook any of it a huge source of dismay. Assaggini’s chief problem is seasoning, or the chefs’ unwillingness to add any of it to their savoury dishes. First, we tried their most adventurous offering, orecchiette verde with black cabbage, red chilli, balsamic-marinated egg yolk and sourdough crispy breadcrumbs. This was an eggless pasta, which could have accounted for its tough texture, although the puddle of unseasoned green sludge it lurked in needed finer excuses. Where was the heat, the crunch, the cut-through of the balsamic egg? Meanwhile, those Chianti-braised beef ravioli were drab parcels of grey, thin, unappealing mulch. A further bowl of cacio e pepe was a disappointment of lacklustre pici pasta with all its parmesan sauce stuck at the bottom of the bowl.

There is a dramatic dichotomy between the restaurant Assaggini wants to be – modern, fun, good-quality, here to smash all its competitors out of the pasta playing field – and the joint they’re actually running. I found myself on a solo errand to find salt and pepper in order to make everything I’d ordered edible. Service was untrained, although I did appreciate the visible blanching of one server when I attempted to order those frittatina di pasta, warning me off.

Pizzas here are eight-inch, square-crusted and made with 48-hour-proven sourdough; we chose the fabulous-sounding Liguria topped with tiger prawns, lemon zest and gently fried courgette, because in theory nothing could be lovelier. Instead, a pallid pizza appeared with only-just melted cheese, which made me wonder if they’d settled their gas bill. Four pale pink tiger prawns sat on top, unmarinated, unseasoned, seemingly unaltered from how they’d been bought from the supplier, and certainly missing any rendezvous with lemon zest. This is atrocious cooking. Until now, I’d have argued vehemently that the phrase “bad pizza” was a contradiction in terms. How can pizza be bad? You take a bready base of any variety – at once thin, pillowy and crispy – add ingredients, plus cheese, then let the whole thing become bronzed, bubbling, fatty, salty and sating. One slice of pizza is never enough, or so I thought.

Out of sheer curiosity, I ordered the tiramisu, which good Italian restaurants live or die by. I longed for that near-death experience of inhaling at least a tablespoon of cocoa powder from the top of a fat slice of coffee-soaked sponge fingers, claggy with mascarpone, double cream and marsala. Instead, a small glass jar arrived filled with structureless custard that was flavoured with something akin to Mellow Bird’s instant coffee. We had asked for three spoons, so they pushed all three into the custard on the way to the table. The forlorn jar was placed between us, looking like washing-up.

Assaggini is 2024’s most peculiar restaurant so far. I’m happy to draw the line there, thank you.

  • Assaggini 227 Byres Road, Glasgow G12, 0141-739 9355. Open Sun-Thur noon-9pm, Fri-Sat noon-10pm. From about £35 a head à la carte, plus drinks and service.

  • Listen to the latest episode of Grace’s podcast, Comfort Eating, here