I’ve said in one or two other ‘Favourite Haunts’ posts that they are not necessarily about great food but a host of other things that make them favourite places to revisit again and again. However, A Cena stands out as being one of my favourite haunts where the food is of an exceptionally high standard and I’m definitely there as much for that as for the wonderful, light, sophisticated but friendly and informal ambience that makes it a delightful place to spend a leisurely couple of hours or so over an excellent meal. In fact, as I slowly wandered across Richmond bridge with Jonathan and Lyndsey after our lunch today, discussing our meal and what we thought about A Cena, we decided it definitely was, without doubt, our very favourite restaurant. We love the atmosphere and it serves the kind of food we like best.
It’s been a favourite family since it opened its doors in 2001 and since then has won much praise in the press and been acclaimed one of the best Italian restaurants in London. I have to confess that I’m more often ‘haunting’ its Panino Bar for morning coffee, but whenever there is a celebration … or just a desire for a wonderful gastrononic treat … A Cena is the place to go. Today was a slightly late celebration of Jonathan and Lyndsey’s first wedding anniversary, but I’m already getting the family to pencil in going there for my birthday in April.
A Cena’s Sunday lunch menu is excellent value at £21 for 1 or 2 courses; £25 for 3. There’s plenty of choice too: 6 starters, 8 main courses and 3 desserts or cheese. I could have happily eaten everything on the menu but while we made up our minds, we tucked into the delicious focaccia put on the table and ordered glasses of prosecco.
We all went for different starters (which happily meant we could have fun tasting each others!): I chose Cauliflower Fritti with Parmesan, Lemon Mayonnaise and Fried Capers; Lyndsey had Salame Milano with Fennel and Parmesan Salad and Jonathan had Bruschetta of Cannellini Beans, Tomato, Sage, Parmesan and Balsamic.
My cauliflower fritters were amazing; really good. They tasted intensely of the cauliflower itself, but the light batter enhanced the flavour and they were perfectly cooked: soft but with a slight – al dente – bite still. The creamy mayonnaise was a wonderful accompaniment with the acidity of the added lemon, while the slightly salty capers and Parmesan gave a brilliant punch to the dish. The other two starters were equally good.
We had different main courses too: Baked Seabass Fillet ‘in a bag’ with Semi Dried Tomatoes, Radicchio, Oregano, Vermouth and Olive Oil Mash for me; Baked Crepes Stuffed with Seafood, Spinach and Dill for Lyndsey; and Veal Scallopine with Green Beans, Butter and Parmesan for Jonathan. We also ordered a delicious bottle of Valpolicella Classico to go with the main courses.
I love seabass but was also intrigued by the chef adding radicchio, which I like a lot but has a slightly bitter taste. It worked brilliantly set against the sweetness of the fish and tomatoes; a completely divine and glorious dish. I tasted the crepes which were delicious and surprisingly light – stuffed crepes can be quite heavy – and Jonathan said his veal was excellent.
We hardly needed dessert – but how could we resist? Lyndsey and I – being girls! – went for the chocolate option: Chocolate and Praline Panna Cotta with Roasted Hazelnuts, Chocolate Sauce and Cream, while Jonathan chose Apple Fritters with Cinnamon Sugar and Cream.
The panna cotta was a heavenly concoction of chocolate and praline: it was a bit like a big praline chocolate but with a lighter, more mousse-like texture, and a full, rich flavour. The fritters were good too … but I’m a chocolate girl.
A Cena’s Sunday lunch is really fabulous and, I think, good value for food of this quality. At the end, we got talking to a couple at the next table who go often and travel 35 miles from Marlow for it. The bill for the three of us, 3-course Sunday lunch menu at £25 each plus two bottles of mineral water, three glasses of prosecco, one bottle of wine and two coffees came to £133 before tip.
Can’t wait to go back … well, my birthday and April isn’t so far away …
Update August 2022: A Cena now has a new owner and chef. I’ve heard it’s still good but haven’t been back myself yet.