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A Cena’s Regional Dinners – Piedmont

March 4, 2014

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What better way to start the week than by heading off to one of my very favourite restaurants – the wonderful A Cena in Twickenham – on a Monday evening for one of their brilliant Regional Dinners. This was the third Regional Dinner I’d been to with Jonathan and Lyndsey and we were all looking forward to food from one of the most exciting regions of Italy for food: Piedmont, or, in Italian, Piemonte. We were joined by my friend Elsa who, being Italian too, knows a thing or two about Italian food. As I discussed with A Cena’s Head Chef Nicola at the end of the evening, there’s no one like an Italian for being precise and knowledgeable about the food of the different regions. Which, we agreed, it something we love.

Piedmont and its capital, Turin, are home to some of the best food and wines in Italy: risotto rice from the Po Valley, white truffles, porcini mushrooms, metre-long grissini, vitello tonnato, salame, zabaione and bagna cauda. Then there are the wines: that king of Italian wines, Barolo; Gavi and Barbera wines. We knew we were in for a treat.

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Entering A Cena is such a great experience: sleek sophistication and yet so warm and welcoming too. I was a little early (and anyone who knows me will be laughing at that: I always am!) and was pleased to see owner Tim Healy who brought me a glass of prosecco and I sat at the bar for a while.

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Soon my friend Elsa arrived; a few minutes later Lyndsey. Jonathan had been delayed at work but turned up only 15 minutes late, arriving in his leathers, his motorbike parked outside. Well, it was an Italian restaurant so very appropriate. If you’ve ever been to Naples you’ll know what I mean! The restaurant was busy; these Regional Evenings always sell out quickly. We sat at our table and saw the grissini – long, gorgeous breadsticks for us to nibble on as our first glass of wine was brought and we made our choices from the menu.

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As usual, there were three courses with matching wines – all for £30 a head. Three of us chose Fettucine al Burro Aramatizzato – Homemade Egg Pasta with Rosemary Butter, Parmesan & White Oil Truffle – for our starters; Elsa chose Bagna Cauda – Hot Anchovy Dip served with vegetables – a true Piedmont classic. Our wine choice was a white wine: Deltetto Roero Arneis ‘San Michele’ 2012. A 100% Arneis grape, this had a wonderful nose of exotic fruit, apples and vanilla with a minerally character and fresh finish. It was delicious.

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The tagliatelle was AMAZING. It was truly wonderful: exactly the right al dente bite; the truffle oil adding a glorious richness yet not overdone. Sublime.

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Elsa’s bagna cauda was very good too; she gave me a little taste – and I gave her a taste of my tagliatelle. Well that’s what lovers of good food do – share and discuss! We all chose the same main course. There was a great sounding chicken dish – Pollo Bollito – with vegetables and a tarragon sauce, but we all wanted the Beef Braised in ‘Sant Andrea’ Barbera wine with Vegetables and Soft Polenta.

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It was magnificent: the rich and delicious red wine sauce, meltingly soft beef and lovely creamy polenta. We drank red wine with it: Vigne Marina Coppi ‘Sant’ Andrea Barbera 2011 – the same wine the meat was cooked in. Bright ruby-red in colour, it had a nose of good intensity with black cherry and strawberries; a complex, rounded wine with a delicious fruit character. (I should add that the wines helpfully came with Tasting Notes which is something else I really love about these evenings.)

There were two desserts to choose from or some Taleggio cheese (one of my favourites) served with honey and walnuts. Three of us went for Pannacotta con Caramello – vanilla cream with orange caramel, while Jonathan chose Budino di Cioccolato – a chocolate pudding with hazelnut cream.

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Antonio Carluccio says the Pannacotta from the Piedmont region is the original pannacotta and probably a derivative of the French creme caramel. Thus it was very appropriate to serve this one with the caramel sauce that had a lovely hint of orange.

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The chocolate cream was surprisingly light – yes we all tasted Jonathan’s! And very delicious too. We were given a dessert wine to go with it: G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2013. This was a delicate fizz with an apricot and peach character and a clean, fresh finish. I thought it was a delightful ‘alternative’ dessert wine with its soft, mousse-like sparkle – but then I do love fizz!!

I love these dinners and I’m so pleased there are still lots of regions to go. Where next? I asked Justine on the way out, willing to give encouraging ideas like Lazio with its Roman food, Campania and Naples, Sicily … well fortunately one can go on for some time. I can’t wait to find out what’s next but meanwhile we all had a great evening – as we told head chef Nicola as we were leaving. Jonathan thought it was the best regional dinner yet … but really, all the regions of Italy have such wonderful food, and A Cena’s food is always so good, how on earth do you choose!

If you want to know more about A Cena’s Regional Dinners, visit their website and sign up for their e-newsletter: www.acena.co.uk

3 Comments
  1. Sometimes I wonder why I’m so hungry by 11 in the morning. I think it is from reading posts like this. Your meal sounds like it was wonderful…better yet, it seems like a good price.

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