There have been a lot of Italians – Italian restaurants and delis – in Twickenham for as long as I’ve lived here. And that’s well over 20 years. But it’s only since writing the blog that I’ve stopped to wonder why. When I was searching out some sumac a few months ago, my friend Elsa, who lives in north London, said to just go to a Turkish shop. But we don’t have Turkish shops in Twickenham, I said. We have lots of Italians ones though, I added. And that got me thinking.
Twickenham – in the London Borough of Richmond – is well known for many things. There is the rugby, of course. The world famous stadium is quite close to where I live and if you’re not a rugby fan, I suggest you avoid coming here on the few Saturdays in the year when about 85,000 fans descend. Roads are closed, trains are packed, and it’s very hard for a local to go anywhere. I don’t mind. I’m not exactly a rugby fan but I’d rather see a rugby match than a football match. And the rugby fans are generally a friendly if boisterous lot and I find it’s best to just go along with the festive atmosphere they bring.
Twickenham has been home to famous poets in the past: Alfred Lord Tennyson, Walter de la Mare and Alexander Pope (click here for more). The painter J.M.W. Turner lived here too and you can visit the home he designed and lived in near Marble Hill Park. And then there’s rock ‘n’ roll. Just down the road from me is Eel Pie Island. There was once a hotel on it where famous rock bands like the Rolling Stones and The Who started out. It was a real mecca for rock fans in the sixties. Now the island, which you can access via a footbridge from central Twickenham, is home to an arts and crafts community and twice a year it’s opened up for you to visit artists’ studios. However, a bit of music lives on and you might, for instance, see Pete Townshend wandering around (my son rang me about a year ago to say he’d stopped to say hello to Zeph, their Yorkshire terrier, when they were sitting outside a cafe). You can do quite a bit of celebrity spotting in Richmond and Twickenham. I’m not sure that Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger still own their pad on Richmond Hill, but I’ve spotted Richard E. Grant in a supermarket and Richmond is also home to David Attenborough and the singer Katherine Jenkins amongst others. However, despite all this I can’t find any Italian link to explain the proliferation of Italian cafes, restaurant and delis. But I thought it would be fun to run through the ones I’ve come to know well and love. So here is my guide to Twickenham’s Little Italy:
This is one of my very favourite restaurants. The wonderful A Cena is situated close to Richmond Bridge on the Twickenham side. They bring all the style and sophistication that you find in Italy but in an informal way that makes it a brilliant place to relax and enjoy some of the best Italian food London has to offer. They do a wonderful Sunday lunch which is often a choice for family celebrations (click here); have started running regional evenings where you can enjoy the food of one region for a great set price (click here); and offer a delicious Express Lunch at excellent value. To find out more visit their website: www.acena.co.uk
Masaniello is in Church Street, Twickenham. This is Twickenham’s prettiest roads running off the high street down to St Mary’s Church and the river – from where you can see Eel Pie Island! In the summer the road is shut off to traffic on weekend evenings and the restaurants spill out onto the street and you can sit outside. Since discovering this lovely Italian restaurant a couple of years ago (click here), it’s become a bit of a regular haunt, especially with my daughter Nicola when she’s down from Birmingham as she loves it, particularly their seafood pasta. I went there with her and her partner Rachael last summer and although we didn’t sit outside the windows were wide open and a saxophonist was playing some great jazz on the street. It’s run by Livio, whose family have a pizzeria in Naples, and MariaLucia. This is the place to enjoy wonderful Napoli style pizza and the best baba (a speciality of Naples) I’ve ever had. When Rachael and I ordered one Livio brought it out himself (it’s not always on the menu) and told me he loves making it because his mother, who was a pastry chef, taught him to make them and so they’re very special. See their website: www.masaniello.co.uk
Ruben’s Bakehouse & Refettorio
Ruben’s has become so much part of Twickenham life that it’s hard to believe that it’s not much over a year ago that Igor first opened his bakery (click here). At first he sold just a few things but as time went on, he introduced more and more things to the bakery and then opened up a pizzeria – the Refettorio – next door in July 2012 (click here). I’m completely addicted to his wonderful sourdough bread and rarely buy anything else, but the Refettorio is a great place to go for what I promise you is one of the best – if not the best! – pizzas in London.
Update 2017: there’s now a branch of Ruben’s in St Margaret’s.
Sapori is a new Italian addition to Twickenham on the site of a former Italian restaurant (thus I named the location, Italy Corner in my review! Click here). From breakfast to a light lunch or an aperitivo in the evening, this is the place to come and enjoy a slice of Italy and buy best quality pasta, Italian cheeses including burrata, wines and lots of other Italian delicacies.
Update 2017: Sapori has changed quite a bit and is less an Italian deli now but more a cafe.
Corto Italian Deli
Corto is in Church Street, like Masaniello, so in the summer you can enjoy an aperitivo or snack sitting outside. I’m frequently popping in to buy their wonderful taralli. I have a great addiction to these little twisted breadsticks from Puglia and so do my family. In fact we had a taralli tasting in the summer, sampling taralli from other places as we sat in the garden in the evening with glasses of prosecco. The ones I buy from Corto were our favourites. I also met Italian friends Lucia and Adriana there for aperitivo one warm summer’s evening. They had Peronis and I had prosecco. Aperitivos comes with complimentary cichetti and we were given some lovely little tomato bruschettas. I went there for morning coffee and panetonne with Nicola and Rachael just before Christmas and keep meaning to go back to find out more as there are always delicious looking dishes of pasta for lunch and they do great plates of Italian meats and cheeses to share for a snack. I will go soon and let you know more!
Well, as you can see, you hardly need go to Italy for an Italian experience if you live in Twickenham! These great places are run by Italians (Camilla Healy, A Cena’s co-owner with husband Tim, comes from an Italian family), and so you can even practise your Italian should you want. They’re serving some of the best Italian food around so if you fancy a special Italian meal, a great pizza, fabulous bread or a relaxing aperitivo, then come to Twickenham soon!
Update May 2015: Since writing this I’ve written in more detail about Corto Deli, which has become one of my favourite places – click here for post.