Life has been a bit full-on of late and so I’ve not had much time to write on the blog. Then a lingering cold led me to cancel a couple of visits to new restaurants that it would have been good to write about. The last week or so though has seen me returning to three Italian favourites; places I go to a lot and love. And each visit has its own little story that I thought it would be fun to share.
A Cena, East Twickenham
I written about A Cena many times; it’s an old favourite going back many years. But I haven’t written about it in a while; in fact, I haven’t been there a lot in a while. Now that’s nothing to do with the quality of the food and service and nor is it anything to do with the fact that original owner Tim Healy has moved into central London (to another old favourite, Joe Allen, and other restaurants). A Cena was bought – a couple of years ago or so – by the manager Justine Kemsley and the team are the same, including their wonderful head chef Nicola and waiter Bart, all of whom have been there for years. So really there’s no obvious difference.
I used to go to their regional dinners regularly with Jonathan and Lyndsey in pre-Freddie days but the arrival of my gorgeous grandson has meant we don’t go out so much. And there are other factors. But just before Christmas I suggested going there to some friends and we had a lovely meal, then about 10 days ago I suggested to a local friend we meet there. A bonus on Mondays to Wednesdays is that for locals with a Richmond Card you can get a 20% discount. The Richmond Card is a card given to locals by the council which gives parking discounts and some shops and restaurants offer discounts too. Anyway, Liz and I decided it would be good to go to A Cena. We both like it. It has a nice touch of sophistication, the food is great – and we can hear ourselves talk!
Homemade focaccia is always brought immediately. It’s really good and nice to nibble on with an aperitif while deciding what to choose from the menu. To start, Liz had buffalo mozzarella served with hot lentils, creme fraiche and basil oil, which was very good – she gave me a taste!
I chose Fritelle – radicchio, Parmesan and lemon fritters. They were wonderful.
Liz chose fish for her main course – some pan-fried sea bass with a chicory salad and olive oil mash.
It’s an upside down photo really as I took it from my seat! But she said it was delicious. I could have eaten anything off the menu but opted for pan roasted salt marsh lamb rump served with capers, mint and roasted cauliflower.
It was fabulous. The lamb was gorgeous, cooked to perfection: deep pink and wonderfully tender. And I loved the taste of the roasted cauliflower that came with it.
We were too full for dessert but had really enjoyed our meal; lingered for while with coffee for me and peppermint tea for Liz. I’ll definitely not be waiting too long before going back.
Update August 2022: A Cena now has a new owner and head chef. I’ve heard it’s still good but haven’t been back myself yet.
Masaniello and a Birthday Celebration
It was Freddie’s 2nd birthday last week. As his mum and dad were at work during the day, I suggested picking him up from nursery a little early and then we could all meet at Masaniello in Twickenham for an early evening birthday meal. My son Jonathan likes to say that the service at Masaniello is beyond excellent and they certainly proved this was true last week. I turned up with Freddie and explained the birthday and that Freddie’s mum and dad would soon be with us. The waiter Stefan offered to show Freddie the fish tank towards the back of the restaurant and let him feed the fish. This was such a delight to Freddie he kept wanting to go back to the fish – until the olives arrives; he loves olives. A child seat was brought, a plastic cup for his water. The waiter brought a pad and pen and drew a rabbit for Freddie. We discussed the menu. They don’t have a special children’s menu but can do things like pasta and pizza in a smaller version for little people. Now the first time we took Freddie to Masaniello his dad chose a plate of pasta with tomato sauce for him – our ‘go-to’ choice in restaurants for Freddie. Freddie was perfectly happy with his pasta – until he saw our pizzas! So, this time we ordered him a pizza. We all imagined a child-sized pizza would be … oh I don’t know … I suppose about 16-20cm in diameter. But no, really this pizza was HUGE (it cost £4.95).
The birthday boy was very excited by this and tucked in immediately. But even his enthusiastic appetite couldn’t manage to eat it all; there was about half left. But the waiter again stepped in kindly, offering to package it up to take home. We ordered desserts, chocolate fondant for Jonathan and Lyndsey, a fig tart with walnut ice cream for me. We thought we could all share with Freddie. Freddie who was starting to get a little restless was bribed into staying in his seat by the promise of cake. When my dessert came they’d put a candle in it and it was put in front of Freddie who surprised himself by actually blowing it out. Then came the sharing … a small plate was brought for him. Luckily for me the chocolate fondant was a bigger hit with the birthday boy than my fig tart. The Italians are always so great with kids; Masaniello is always great; but it all came together to make a memorable and lovely birthday for the two year old.
Orsini Ristorante, South Kensington
I’ve been going to Orsini for years, since friend Rona introduced me to it when we met at the Victoria & Albert Museum ages ago and she told me there was a lovely little Italian restaurant opposite where we could have lunch. I’ve been back many times, sometimes on my own, sometimes with family or friends; my daughter loves it and has been a number of times too. Yesterday I was meeting my friend Lucia at the French Institute in South Kensington at 6.30 to see two Italian films. Slightly surprisingly the French Institute has an Italian Film Festival at this time of the year and we’ve met there for it in previous years. Lucia was coming straight from work with no time to eat; the second film would finish late. I’d been snacking all through a busy day and decided food, real food, a proper meal, an Italian meal!, would be a necessity before sitting through three and a half hours of Italian film. And Orsini was in the perfect location. It was quiet of course as it was early and I immediately noticed it had had a makeover – new chairs and tables, freshly painted. It looked different but not too different; it looked good. And the food and service was as good as ever. I ordered a glass of prosecco to sip at while I waited for my order of a risotto to come. It was a special of the day with radicchio and Gorgonzola – a lovely combination of one of my favourite Italian cheeses which is rich and creamy with the slightly bitter red radicchio leaf. It was gorgeous.
Afterwards I had an espresso, talked a little to manager Francesco, and then slowly made my way back towards the Cine Lumiere. With a bit of time to spare I diverted into Snowflake, an excellent gelateria that I’ve been to before, right by South Kensington station. Well, I was being Italian … prosecco … risotto … espresso … and how could I miss out the gelato!!
Then it was on to the films and meeting my friend. And over the space of about 10 days I’d managed to revisit some of my favourite Italian haunts.