CJ's Secret Pasta Club: Brisbane's Tastiest Italian Secret
In the backstreets of West End, Brisbane’s own ‘little Italy’ has settled in the form of CJ’s Secret Pasta Club. During the day, CJ’s is a simple shop front, where you can buy homemade sauces, lasagne and pasta that would make your nonna swoon. But by night, a mere fourteen seats are set out, ready for three hours of intimate dining of a delicious limited menu.
Approaching CJ’s, you’re taken aback by the simplicity of it – just a couple tables with a single candle on each, making the space feel homely and welcome. We were greeted by a young man with an impressive moustache, who took us to our table and walked us through the menu. The service of CJ’s Secret Pasta Club was impeccable, this was solidified by one simple, but all-telling action. At the end of the meal, when the waiter cleared our table and smiled politely at our decline to the offer of dessert, he took away our empty water jug and replaced it with a full one. This one action sent a message that I believe sums up CJ’s, that there was no rush to leave, that this place was ours to enjoy for as long as we pleased.
Our party was a party of three, which meant that we were able to order one of each of the menu – the gnocchi, the ravioli and the Bolognese. This made the night a lot less stressful, because if the menu was bigger, I would have had a breakdown trying to choose just one. These three traditional meals were simple, but they packed in a lot of flavour, everyone spent the car ride home arguing over why their meal was more superior to the other two.
For me, the star of the show was definitely the Sweet Potato gnocchi with a vegetable ragu. It was rich, warm and mountainous. It tasted like a rainy, sick day off – this dish wrapped me in a blanket, kissed my forehead and cured me of all illness with it’s fluffy rolled potato, lapped in a velvety tomato sauce. The vegetable ragu featured zucchini, eggplant, mushroom and capsicum – yet, still had the heartiness of a meat dish. If you’re a serious meat-lover, and are looking to sneak some more vegetables into your meals, CJ’s has answered all your prayers.
The Veal Ravioli mastered the art of balance by being smoky, but still light. This feat is quite impressive considering the ingredients consist mainly of meat and carbs. The texture of the ravioli filling was fine and smooth, which meant that the meal left you feeling satisfied, but not uncomfortably stuffed. The traditional Bolognese out-shined any Bolognese I had throughout my travels in Italy. The pasta was a perfect al dente, creating a perfect balance of textures in the mouth – the meat was soft and tender, and the spaghetti has just the right amount of bite to it.
All three dishes came out at the same time, which made the meal feel very harmonious and communal. No one was left waiting awkwardly for their dish to come out, insisting on the others to begin without them and the others blatantly refusing. This simple act of service, contributed with the overall experience of CJ’s Pasta Club feeling so homely, we weren’t out at a restaurant, we were at our pal’s house, drinking our own wine (thanks to CJ’s being BYO), having a laugh and enjoying the company of our party. CJ’s Secret Pasta Club is the perfect mid-week dinner. It’s delicious, affordable and you’re home by nine. I wish I could go every night, so I could experience everything on their forever changing menu. It’s the perfect place for those who are suffering from post-travelling depression, or those who just really, really love a good old bowl of pasta.