There had been posters in the windows of shops and restaurants for weeks advertising A Taste of Twickenham – a foodie trail and chance to find out about some of the other things the town had to offer. I made a mental note of the date, let the family know, and told the two eldest grandsons (Freddie, 8 and Ben, 5) about it, promising I would take them.
The event began at 12.30 and would go on until 6.00pm. As I set out around 1.00 to meet my son and the two boys in the centre of town, I was both amazed and delighted to see how much was going on. Almost as soon as I entered the high street from my home at the far end of the town, I saw tables set up outside restaurants and cafes selling small plates of their food; entertainment – even at the Mazda garage! It was busy everywhere. Crowds queued; music played and everywhere there was a sense of celebration – it was a street party on an enormous scale!
Church Street – Twickenham’s prettiest street, full of independent shops, cafes and restaurants – often has events. The road runs from the centre of town down to St Mary’s Church, and is near the River Thames. It’s quite a small street, now pedestrianised from 10am until midnight each day. When they have events – French markets, Christmas markets, etc. – they’re contained within that street, but A Taste of Twickenham was taking over the town.
York Street, a main street that leads out of the town towards Richmond, was closed off. A few stalls had been put up – arts and crafts rather than food – and lots of deckchairs laid out ready for some entertainment, and later we saw an enormous puppet there. The excitement was in full flow in all directions, heading up London Road towards the railway station too.
I met up with son and boys and we decided to walk down the closed-off York Street and then enter Church Street (which has all our favourite cafes and restaurants), at the far end. I’d read in a leaflet that Locanda Luna would have pizza and live jazz. Sure enough, the smooth, soulful sounds of a woman’s voice, accompanied by double bass, saxophone, keyboard and drums could be heard and soon we were standing in an appreciative crowd enjoying some wonderful live music.
We continued on, weaving our way through some side roads to St Mary’s Church and into Church Street. It was very busy. Son and I held a child’s hand each; this wouldn’t be a good place to lose either of them (even though they probably could find their way back to Nonna’s house!).
Corto Italian Deli is one of our very favourite places to go – breakfast, lunch, aperitivo in the summer. We said ‘Ciao’ to owner Romina and admired the display of pots full of cold meats and cheese. Glasses for Aperol Spritz stood at the ready. However, we moved on – slowly, for there was no way we could hurry through the crowds, even if we’d wanted to! All the cafes and restaurants were offering small samples of their food outside. There was lots to taste.
There was more singing ahead of us. Opera this time – the Oily Carte Opera Troupe.
By the time we reached Masaniello, towards the far end, we decided it was definitely time for something to eat and slices of their fabulous pizza was just what was needed. We said hello to Maria, co-owner with Livio the head chef, who was probably in the kitchen. We bought slices of pizza that was coming straight through from the pizza oven and then made our way across the street to a space where we could eat it. Perfect street food! Perfect lunch!
In the excitement, I decided I wanted to try some of Livio’s pistachio tiramisu too, so son Jonathan obliged and got me a small pot. It was a delicious treat.
From here we emerged from Church Street into the main hub of Twickenham where York Street, London Road and Heath Road span out in different directions. Jonathan had to go off now and the boys agreed we’d head up Heath Road back to Nonna’s house. But there was still plenty to see and be tempted by …
Most specifically the oyster bar at Sandy’s, Twickenham’s infamous fishmonger. I say infamous because people travel from far and wide to this shop, particularly at Christmas when they sell turkeys too, and at New Year, seafood platters. Even when you’ve ordered a turkey, you can face a wait of a couple of hours early on Christmas Eve to get to the front of the queue. Sandy’s queue is legendary. But they bring along hot drinks, soup, mince pies and little snacks to keep everyone happy and full of good cheer.
Pots of fresh oysters sat on a table outside the shop and also cooked oysters. On the other side of the doorway, another table had bowls of accompaniments – Tabasco, shallots and vinegar. Freddie wanted to try some.
I decided that the cooked oysters might be the best start in oyster education for an 8-year-old. Just as we made this decision, the last bowl of cooked oysters was taken up and we were told there would be a 12-15 minute wait for more as they were being freshly cooked in the kitchen at the back of the shop. We’d come this far in the oyster story and the boys were happy to wait – Ben even though he didn’t actually want to taste one! We stood to the side and watched as more people came to buy oysters. Many bought a glass of champagne too – an almost essential accomplishment to oysters! I’d resisted this when I paid, but as the wait for the cooked oysters continued, my resistance started to falter …
There’s only so long Travel Gourmet can stand next to an open bottle of champagne and resist buying a glass. I gave in.
I gave the strawberry to Freddie (Ben didn’t want it) who was sure it carried a taste of champagne with it. The boys were wonderfully amenable to hanging around waiting for the oysters – even Ben who didn’t want to try one. Freddie meanwhile was prepared to settle in for the long wait. He’d never tasted an oyster before and now his chance had come, he wasn’t about to give up on it. A brief moment of uncertainty hit and he said, ‘But what if I don’t like it?’ ‘Then you don’t have to eat it,’ I told him. ‘But well done for wanting to try them.’
Meanwhile, we saw a continual flow of people buying pots of raw oysters. Some confessed a love for them; others said this would be their first time eating them. There was a mix of different oysters in the servings, with information on each kind. We were told these had come from Cornwall. Freddie told me about the kind that come from Thailand which long-tailed macaques feed on, cracking them open on rocks to get to the meat inside. I liked the idea of this but only had less exotic, if still wonderful, offerings of places where I’d eaten oysters: Whitstable (in Kent and famous for its oysters), Lyme Regis and Cornwall – not to mention Arcachon and Cancale in France.
The woman serving us was wonderfully friendly and we chatted a bit. Part of the reason for the long wait was that they changed the oil with each batch, clearly ensuring they were not only freshly cooked but at their best. Eventually the cooked oysters came out and we were ready to try them.
Would Freddie like them? He has sophisticated food tastes for an 8 year old, but even I wasn’t sure … I let him choose which one to try first. The one at the top in the photo below. I lifted it out of the shell towards his mouth. He took a bite …
His face lit up. ‘I love it!’ he cried. I took a small taste of this one myself and then handed him the rest. We were given forks for the second one, covered in a herb crust. It was softer, closer to a raw oyster and slightly salty (I’d warned Freddie of the salty aspect of oysters). Still it was greeted with enthusiasm. The oyster tasting had been a success. Both boys wanted a shell to take home. Then off we set again. ‘When can we have oysters again?’ asked Freddie.
It was a fun couple of hours and a great thing to do with the boys. We could have tasted much more; made more of a day of it. But there were evening plans and bolognese ragù waiting at my house for an early supper. I hope this first A Taste of Twickenham is only the start of an annual event. It was a wonderful way to enjoy the town, to bring the whole community together. And all the tasting one could do at different restaurants seemed a great way to try out samples of food from places you hadn’t eaten in.