This is quite a special blog post. It’s my 500th, which to me feels like something worth celebrating. I’ve given some thought to what special, celebratory post I might write over the last few days – cooking something special, listing my favourite restaurants, my top kitchen gadgets or best new cookbooks. In the end, life has taken over. I’d arranged to take my lovely goddaughter Emma to Arte Chef in Barnes on the first day of her maternity leave and thus a review of Arte Chef would be my 500th post.
But this was all special anyway: having lunch with Emma on a beautiful sunny day and visiting Livio’s new restaurant for an Italian lunch. Livio’s Twickenham restaurant, Masaniello, has been a firm favourite since I first went there in August 2012 and he’s recently opened this new place in Barnes with his business partner Aristotile, offering an all-day experience of Italian food from breakfast, through lunch to (coming in the next week or two) dinner in the evening. Both men come from Naples, where they trained as chefs, having ‘grown up on good food as only our mothers and grandmothers can do’. At Arte Chef their food has a strong Neopolitan, southern Italy influence, not least the traditional brick pizza oven (though apologies for the bad photo!).
Livio’s family run a pizzeria in Naples and his mother is a pastry chef who taught him to cook the most amazing babas – which can never be missed when I see them on the menu at Masaniello. This new restaurant in Barnes is located in a prime spot on Church Street and is bright and airy inside.
We managed to park just outside and then, because it was such a beautiful day, decided to sit out at the back in the garden. It was busier out there with other people making the most of the glorious weather but when it was quieter later I managed another photo.
Emma and I decided to share a pizza and a salad for lunch. We went for a simple Margherita pizza – tomato, fior di latte and basil (£6.95). Fior di latte is a mozzarella made from cow’s, not buffalo milk, and comes from southern Italy; the red, white and green colours are said to represent the Italian flag in this pizza. This is the kind of simple pizza most commonly eaten in Naples, along with Marinara (a simple tomato, garlic and herb sauce).
The Italians generally don’t do pizza with lots of topping – and their way is the way I like it. With Livio and Aristotile coming from Naples, the base of their pizza is a thicker, softer crust than you’d get with pizzas in other parts of Italy. In Rome, for instance, they serve pizza on a thin, crusty base. We also chose a Melanzane alla Parmigiana salad (£9.95) to share as well. Emma and I both agreed this was one of our favourite things and the Parmigiana came with salad and a ball of mozzarella on the side and some grilled courgettes, olives and artichokes.
The Melanzane alla Parmigiana was excellent (I teased Livio on the way out that it was almost as good as mine; thankfully he took it in the teasing spirit in which it was intended!). It was a large plate of food and along with the pizza, we were both too full for dessert and I had just a single espresso to finish.
It had been such a lovely place, in the sunny garden, to sit over a leisurely lunch and catch up with Emma. Livio came to say hello; the food had been delicious and very reasonably priced and I liked Arte Chef a lot. On the way out, Livio introduced us to Aristotile and the restaurant’s manager, Maria, who told us they’d soon be putting up works of art by local artists and opening in the evening. They all seemed to be full of ideas to make this a buzzing, great place to head to for a little bit of a Naples experience. We saw food in the deli at the front too where, if you were local, you could come to buy some of that wonderful Melanzane alla Parmigiana or other dishes. To find out more, check them out at: www.artechef.co.uk