Always A Cena....
Walking through the door of A Cena is like stepping into a Sicilian restaurant. Delicious, seasonal, authentic Italian food and traditional Italian atmosphere, make this little piece of Italy a stones-throw from the Thames, a must.
In a world of complex culinary offerings, exotic décor and high maintenance chefs, the fight for a place at the top table in the restaurant world is a tough one.
There is always the latest trend, a new hotspot or maybe something pushing the outside of the envelope. There’s nothing wrong with trying something new. Yet, sometimes it is the simplest of things that bring us the most happiness; especially when it comes to dinner out with our family, friends and colleagues.
A Cena is one of those places. This small, intimate and compelling restaurant just over the bridge in Twickenham has been turning out delicious, traditional Italian dishes for 15 years.
It’s latest owner Justine Kemsley took it over two years ago after working as manageress for the previous five years. Since then she and chef, Nicola Parsons have steadily consolidated its menu and its reputation. That’s why it has never lost its appeal to those who want quality food and an atmosphere within which they can relax and enjoy great company.
Actors, entertainers, loyal residents and media folk cross its threshold because when it comes to reliability, service, great food and ambience, they know they can’t go wrong. The film tribe are often to be found chowing down to a plate of pasta. Meryl Streep stops by, Matthew MacFadyen and his wife Keeley Hawes, Rob Brydon has been in and former England manager Roy Hodgson.
I first started going there after I returned from Asia where I had been working as a foreign correspondent. After five years on the road in a turbulent region of the world I had returned home, pregnant with my third child. Once safely delivered of my young daughter, I wanted to explore again the restaurants and cafés along the river.
I became a regular. Of course I made an effort with my post-partum diet but I must say that often the lure of a glass of chianti and a great ragout proved too much for my limited will power. I used to say to friends and colleagues that it was like stepping into a Sicilian restaurant. Lately I am reminded of the TV programme, Inspector Montalbano, in which the Italian detective, made famous in the novels by Andrea Camilleri, never misses the chance of a tasty lunch while he ruminates on the latest crime to hit Vigata. I almost expect his assistant Mimi Augello to step inside and order a negroni.
Since those early days, I have always made a point of returning. I lived in Hong Kong where there are more than 10,000 restaurants serving a highly discerning population but I don’t think any of them surpassed A Cena; in my view at least. On my first visit back, I bumped into old colleagues from Sky TV who had remained regulars while I was away in Asia. They think like me; that eating out is all about food, family and friends – about soul.
These days Chef Nicola Parsons, serves up a range of dishes all based on seasonal ingredients. In the winter A Cena looks toward Northern Italy and in the summer the menu is likely to feature dishes from Puglia and other coastal regions in the south.
Justine says, “You won’t find any herbaceous leaves here – just bang on flavours. It is all about the ingredients. We change the menu frequently but we are consistent with our range of dishes and how they are cooked and served.”
Particular favourites are liver, hake and A Cena’s risotto is always in demand.
In addition, the restaurant’s smart cocktail bar expanded its repertoire and visitors can stop by for a drink even if they don’t want to sit down and eat. Now that is something that has changed, I started dropping by in my younger days.
Important things should, of course, remain the same but there’s nothing wrong with injecting a few new elements. You can rely on Justine for that.
©RiverTribe Magazine 2017