It’s been another day of art and Italian food, this time much closer to home. Twickenham abounds with wonderful Italian restaurants, cafes and delis as I wrote in Twickenham’s ‘Little Italy‘ and Corto Italian Deli is a regular haunt of mine in Twickenham’s Church Street, the town’s prettiest road that lies just behind the Thames and leads from the high street to … yes, you’ve guessed it … the local church, St Mary’s. In the summer time the road is closed to traffic at the weekend and restaurants spill out into the sunshine on days such as today creating a holiday feel. It may not be quite the Mediterranean but with the river nearby and the Italian friendliness and cooking skills of Romina and Marco it’s a great place to be.
My friend Elsa – another Italian – came over from Islington late morning for us to visit some of the Art Open House Studios in the borough of Richmond this weekend. This is a twice yearly event when local artists open up their houses or studios for the general public to visit. The first time I visited the open studios I was amazed to find that hidden in houses right on my doorstep – literally in my road and adjacent – artists were at work producing wonderful paintings, ceramics, sculptures or jewellery. It was such a pleasing thing. With nearly a hundred studios stretching from Kew and Barnes in the East to Hampton and Teddington in the West of the borough it was obvious we could only visit a few, so I used the map in the guide I’d picked up to decide on a route we could take from Richmond station (where Elsa arrived by train) to Eel Pie Island in Twickenham.
I was excited to be able to go inside the great landscape painter JMW Turner’s house where a local artist, Beverley Waller, was showing her work. Turner designed the house – Sandycoombe Lodge – over 200 years ago as his country retreat. At that time it wasn’t the built-up residential area it is today and he would have seen countryside sweeping down from the house towards the Thames. I lived just round the corner until 8 years ago and at that time the house was in private ownership and you couldn’t go inside. But on the owner’s death in 2010, the house passed to a Trust who are now raising money to restore it to its original state. It’s a lovely house – though definitely in need of some attention – and Beverley’s work was great too. (To find out more about Turner’s house visit: www.turnerintwickenham.org.uk)
By the time we were nearing our final destination on Eel Pie Island we were hungry; it was definitely lunchtime. I suggested to Elsa that we ate at Corto Italian Deli. As I said, I go regularly – to buy packets of my favourite taralli and I’ve bought salted ricotta there; sometimes I stop for coffee and occasionally a slice of one of their delicious homemade cakes. I’ve been for aperitivo on a Friday evening in the summer when gorgeous little bruschette come with the drinks you order. But I’d never had lunch there before, although every time I passed by and saw the wonderful plates of cold meats and cheeses, or filled focaccia sandwiches, or saw dishes of homemade lasagne inside, I promised myself I would go soon. However, it’s so close to my home that by the time I get that far, I just keep going!
It was very busy as we approached from the bottom end of Church Street and I wondered if there’d be a table for us. But there was one table so we settled down. We decided to share a platter of mixed Italian cold meats and cheeses with bruschette and a selection of breads. We also ordered small glasses of wine each and chose Falanghina del Sannio, which was delicious.
When the platter of food and breads came it would have been a photo shoot even if you’re not a blogger!
What a great selection of food to make a perfect lunch! Marco explained what everything was: classic tomato bruschetta; chicken liver pate bruschetta and smoked scamorza cheese with roasted tomatoes. There were big Sicilian olives and sun-dried tomatoes. The meat selection was excellent too including salami, mortadella, prosciutto.
The bread basket contained some gorgeous focaccia and fantastic crispy Sardinian bread – Pane Carasau, seasoned with rosemary and sea salt. It is said to have first been made by shepherds in Sardinia to take into the fields because it kept so well. There wasn’t much ‘keeping’ involved today: it was so delicious we couldn’t stop eating until it was all gone!
We loved everything. Elsa spoke in Italian to Marco about the food and he gave her a recipe for bread make with chickpea flour. We both ordered coffees – an espresso for me and a long espresso for Elsa.
Then Romina brought out a plate of cakes and biscuits for us – including a slice of Torta Caprese as she said she knew I liked it and made it myself. It was very kind of her given how long it’s taken me to write this long-promised blog post!
Apart from the Torta Caprese there was an apple cake; the two little biscuits were wonderful, so light and crisp – one made with polenta and the other a liquorice flavour. It was really the most perfect lunch: simple but delicious food. I know Romina and Marco cook the food themselves; I’ve been in when cakes have come to the counter straight from the oven; seen large platters of homemade pasta dishes. But the setting – especially in the summer time – is so lovely too. What better way to spend a lazy summer lunchtime or evening (evenings Thurs-Sun only)? Our bill came to just £24 (before tip) for food, wine and coffee, which I thought very good value.
From there it was a short walk to Eel Pie Island. We cut down a narrow road on to the riverside and then over the bridge to the island. Famous back in the 1960s for a hotel club where famous groups such as the Rolling Stones and The Who started out, it is now an artists’ community. It’s fun to visit it during the Open Studios weekends when you can see much more of the island – click here for more information: www.eelpieislandartists.co.uk. And it was a great way to finish another day or art and good food!