Florence Pugh, pasta and pop-ups - how Onda's Sam Astley-Dean flipped a viral pudding into his own restaurant

“It’s just a bit of pasta, at the end of the day...”

By Ben Arnold | 14 June 2024

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In her own way, Florence Pugh – British-born Hollywood actress, star of Midsommar, Oppenheimer, Little Women and Dune: Part 2 – saved Sam Astley-Dean’s business.

Perhaps that’s a bit much. But it’s fair to say that she was slightly more than a bit part player in the story of Onda, the pasta pop-up he started only last year.

It’s also fair to say before she turned up on the scene, things were getting increasingly problematic.

When Onda first started up at the newly-opened Exhibition food hall on Peter Street, before taking over the kitchen at the New Cross bar in Ancoats, it was a seat-of-the-pants situation.

With margins, physical kitchen space, costs and staff as tight as they could possibly be, Onda was only ever a few bad services from going belly up and never being heard of again, like the story of countless pop-ups every day, all over the place. 

This wasn’t because it was not busy. More often than not, it was far too busy, and they didn’t have the capacity to handle it. Not least because what it was turning out of the kitchen – proper carbonara, crab raviolo, beef cheek parpadelle, all made with pasta freshly turned out on site – was absolutely top notch.

“We were going through a tumultuous period,” Sam says. “It was turning into a car crash and it was touch and go for a good three months. The financials were as dire as they could be.”

Then came the tiramisu drawer. Onda had been layering up their signature dessert in deep catering trays since the beginning, for purely practical reasons.

Mounted on runners, the tiramisus could be pulled smoothly out of the fridges to be plundered by a big spoon, doled onto a plate, and then slid smoothly back in again, so aiding seamless service.

An innocuous video of this quietly ingenious system changed the course of Sam’s life, the algorithmic gods of social media playing Zeus, as they do sometimes.

This was in no small measure thanks to Pugh, who posted the widely-shared video to her stories, adding ‘this is literally my heaven’ to her not-far-off 10 million followers. People said they wanted one in their bedrooms.

The video (“It’s just a drawer of cake,” Sam says, admitting he didn’t see what was coming) was watched over 23 million times and liked millions more. Onda means ‘wave’ in Italian, and this one really and truly overwhelmed them.

“There’s a group chat of that day/night/six to 72 hours, and everyone’s like ‘is this real?’” Sam says.

“The fact that that can just happen is incredible. I think we went from maybe 15,000 followers to over 100,000 followers in like a week.” They now have over 200,000 followers on Instagram alone, a staggering number for a regional pop-up.

Since then, Sam and the team have continued to charmingly and honestly document their journey as a small restaurant business on social media, with stories that chime with many, not just in the hospitality industry.

The irony is that tiramisu isn’t even what Onda does best, though it is an exceptional example of an exceptional pudding. Its focus is on pasta, something that Sam has been passionate about making for most of his career.


It’s a career which has taken him to work with some of the best chefs in the country, working for Simon Rogan at Claridge’s hotel, and then at the hugely influential Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, a standard of the London restaurant scene since the 90s and a kitchen that has held a Michelin star for 25 years. He also worked at the starred Elystan Street for revered chef Phil Howard.

“Since setting foot into professional kitchens, I’ve always ended up making pasta,” he says. “A lot of my mentors in places I’ve worked, pasta has been a big deal.”

After getting the bug for those smart places in London, he’d often considered moving back home – he’s from Stockport – to try and establish a one-star restaurant of his own (‘do something posh, but approachable’). Lockdown forced his hand, along with the birth of his daughter, and so back north he came with his new family, but nowhere to work.

So he got insanely into pizza instead, enamoured by something that’s both simple and hugely complex at the same time. “It was an absolute rabbit hole of a subject,” he says. 


He started making sourdough pizza from his house, showing up at maker’s markets and doing pop-up events under the name Rise, before finding a semi-permanent home at the Track brewery taproom.

“Work life balance has always been terrible, obviously,” he says. “It has always been a bugbear of mine, like how can I do what I love without sacrificing everything else.”

He says making pizza was one of the ‘purest, soul-nourishing things I’ve ever done, it was so pure, and so simple, and I’ve always loved that about food’. “You have to do the hard bit, learn the right ways to do things before you can do what you really enjoy, which is just simplicity,” he says. 

“Nowhere to hide. Learning to understand the imperfectly perfect. Dough is such a pure expression of craft. It also gave me the chance to be a proper dad. Which I didn’t think I could be.”

Then Onda came along. And it all got out of hand again, popularity and all those other things you wish for conspiring against him, and the 18-hour days started racking up again. Once they got their processes properly in place, and had bookings six months in advance thanks to the tiramisu drawer incident, they could plan better.

With some backing from the folk behind Gooey, Evelyn’s, Public and The Daisy, the prospect of his own place came up, and a venue for it too – the recently vacated unit previously opened as Kiwi brunch place Tahi at the Circle Square development off Oxford Road.

With trepidation, a kickstarter fund was put together, selling dinners in advance and tiramisu drawers. In a few days, they had the money they needed to do it, a roundly ‘humbling’ experience, Sam says.

“The aim is to make a really good product, with soul and craft, and make people happy,” he says, showing Manchester’s Finest around the new space. If everyone in the kitchen got on each others shoulders, they’d probably not touch the ceiling.

It’s airy and light, and they’ve bought the kitchen out into the dining room, with big pasta and dough benches that will be used to make the handmade pasta and pizzetta dough, and squeeze on diners when it’s busy, which it will be. It feels communal and it’s a pleasingly utilitarian touch.

Watching Sam in the kitchen throw together a dish of pasta like he was born to it is, you’d assume, a aided by the natural confidence of someone who is immensely skilled at his work, as he is. But he’s still nervous.

“You try and stay as calm as possible,” he says.

“But for someone who definitely errs on the anxiety side of life, I try to reframe it as excitement as much as possible, rather than terrifying. But it’s just a bit of pasta, at the end of the day.”

Onda is open now at Circle Square, 3 Symphony Park, Oxford Rd, Manchester M1 7FS