Summer is faltering a bit here in London but it’s still warm; certainly warm enough to not want to wander further afield than lovely Church Street in Twickenham – full of restaurants, a couple of pubs, craft and gift shops – to find somewhere to eat. With Antonio in town, it seemed a good plan to go to one of its two Italian restaurants and we plumped for Masaniello – a ristorante Napoletana. It’s run by Livio, head chef and joint owner whose family runs a pizzeria in downtown Naples, and Maria Lucia. The restaurant opened in 2009 and although I’ve looked in a number of times when passing, last night was my first visit.
The restaurant is named after Tommaso Aniello (1620-1647), a Neopolitan revolutionary who freed the people of Naples from foreign invaders. Antonio told me the term – Masaniello – is used to describe anyone who is especially rebellious. However, there is no political revolution going on in downtown Twickenham, but Livio and Maria say their revolution is to bring authentic Italian, especially Neopolitan, food to us. They buy fish from the well-known and respected Sandys fishmonger in Twickenham, vegetables from Covent Garden Market, meat from Puntrello Italian family butcher and all dried meats, cheeses and groceries come from Italy. ‘We do our best to give you a real Italian experience,’ they say.
We were offered a table by the window, which, in the still-light evening gave us a nice view down Church Street. We nibbled on some good breadsticks while deciding what to eat and ordered Pellegrino water and glasses of wine. Antonio chose Impepata di Cozze: Neopolitan style sauteed mussels with black pepper and lemon wedges (the one I tried perfectly cooked; still deliciously soft and moist). I chose Polpettine Fritte: deep fried aubergine and mozzarella balls served with garlic mayo. This kind of fried food is so popular in Italy for starters and snacks and these were delicious, breaking open to a gorgeous gooey middle of melting mozzarella.
We both chose pasta for our main courses. Antonio, still on a seafood theme, opted for Paccheri Masaniello: large tube pasta with baby calamari, swordfish, capers and cherry tomatoes. I also went for fish: Tagliolini Cavani: long thin egg pasta with Scottish lobster, white crab meat, cherry tomatoes and chilli.
The tagliolini was delicious: beautifully tender, sweet lobster with the touch of chilli just right, giving the dish a little lift but not overpowering it. I was pretty full after all this but Antonio wanted one of the desserts, being pleased to see they had baba on the list, saying he always liked to eat baba in Naples. I remembered seeing pasticcerie in Naples with their windows full of babas and found this photo from 2 years ago when I was last there.
I didn’t try them in Naples because my memory of rum babas from my childhood – and they were very popular then – was a rather heavy, cloying cake soaked in a rum-based syrup. However, what was put before Antonio last night was a different thing entirely – and fortunately for me he was willing to share.
It was so light, the syrup addition adding a pleasant sweetness but the cake not over rich or sweet. Antonio declared it a good one – so now I know what I’m looking for when it comes to babas!
I risked a single espresso, chancing it wouldn’t keep me awake all night. How could I not, in a Neopolitan restaurant? In Naples coffee – espresso – is drunk all day and into the night: rich, dark roast. So, it was with a lovely little mouthful of coffee we finished the meal and some complimentary glasses of limoncello.
I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to discover how good Masaniello is, but I’m certainly going back soon. It would be great to try their pizza with Livio’s family background. And there’s also the added bonus of being able to walk there easily, and it’s such a nice location. After the meal, we cut down Bell Lane from Church Street, on to The Embankment and strolled along by the river, enjoying the balmy evening, a view of Eel Pie Island across the water and the sound of church bells pealing out – it must have been practice night for the bell-ringers at St Mary’s!