The Italian Stallion
The pretty little town of San Remo in northwestern Italy, not at all far from the French border, was once a byword for ultimate holiday chic. Empresses, Kings, industrialists and the well to do bourgeoisie of the 19th century escaped here to take the ozone and enjoy some summer sunshine.
These days, it’s a quiet little backwater, with a population of just under 60.000 and not much of any note going on. As attractive as it is, it is often overlooked in favour of more glamorous destinations on the Italian Riviera.
Much the same can be said for its namesake in Barnes. For as long as I can remember, I have driven past this little restaurant on Castlenau, just metres from Hammersmith Bridge. It looked nice enough, but, you know, with fabulous Italian restaurant Riva just a little further up the road and with the amazing Riverside Café just over the bridge, not to mention a plethora of other wonderful eateries scattered liberally around this area, who would be tempted to seek out a little local place in the middle of a quite ordinary looking parade of shops at the uneventful end of a busy thoroughfare? It never even really entered my consciousness, not that is, until one particular friend of mine, who also lives locally, banged on about it for the umpteenth time as a great place for Italian food at reasonable price. And so, on a blustery autumnal evening, when the fridge was bare, the Lovely Husband and I finally had that lightbulb moment that inspired us to try out this apparent local marvel, though I must admit, we went there with low expectations.
Instantly surprising, was its cuteness and cosiness. While rain was lashing the window pane, inside this small conservatory style restaurant, bedecked by greenery, intimate lighting cast a golden glow over the tiny white linen dressed tables. Bottles of Italian wine and photographs of vintage year Hollywood stars cover the walls and there is a small bar at the back of the restaurant. It’s all very warm and inviting. To complete the picture of Riviera perfection, our waitress was a classic Italian beauty with a mane of tumbling black curls, a leather mini skirt to match and a big smile. We felt loved, we felt wanted, we felt special, and best of all, we felt completely at home, as though we had been coming here for years. What a turn up for the books!
Before we could say Adriano Celentano, a couple of tomato and basil bruschetta slices were put before us, and very nice they were too!
I was eight years old the first time I had artichoke. As I was living in Germany at the time, my mother wanted me to retain my fluent English, so I was sent as a paying guest to stay in Rugby, of all places, with a modernist/brutalist English architect, his severely neurotic, shouty wife, their two school girl daughters, Tiggy and Bridget, eleven and eight respectively, who had piggyishly upturned noses and nothing but disdain for this little German girl, and the youngest child, eczema ridden Timmy, who made it his mission to bury all my Barbie dolls in their vast garden, leaving me doll less, friendless, homesick and miserable. The worst part of that three week summer trip, was that every evening all four of us were made to stew in a bath together, to save water. Try selling that concept to an only child! In any case, it was here that I was introduced to artichoke. Such exquisite buttery exoticism, such slow sucky pleasure! From that day onwards, in my mind, this magical green flower vegetable has symbolised reward for being brave in the face of adversity. What joy then, to find it on the San Remo menu!
It was, perhaps, just a tad underdone, but glorious nonetheless. The Lovely Husband was in a jovial happy mood that evening, as indeed he is most evenings, which, of course, is why he is such a particularly Lovely husband in the first place, but one must slightly wonder what was going on in his inner psyche for him to order a thoroughly delicious but seriously bloodthirsty looking Robespierre di Manzo for his main course, a dish of thinly sliced Sirloin steak, served very pink with green peppercorns and rosemary with a side dish of more harmless but very well prepared mixed vegetables. Now, as everyone knows, I am not normally a great lover of red meat but, having initially tried just the tiniest taste of this insanely divine dish, I was gripped by such psychopathically intense meat lust, that our normally so loving relationship descended into a fork duel to the death. The gloves were off, let me tell you! No more Mrs. Nice Guy! Eventually he managed to fight me off, just, but only because the beautiful waitress had placed a bowl of steaming, incomparably delicious Spaghetti Aglio e Olio with extra peperoncini in front of me. What can I say? It was perfect and done exactly to a T, as it should be. Al dente, spicy, oily but not too oily, well garlicky and absolutely just so. Unadulterated greed ruled.
The portion of profiteroles we shared afterwards were ok, nothing special, clearly bought in and not home made, but who cares? The meal we had at San Remo will go down in my book of gastronomic experiences as one of the best Italians I have ever had, no contest. And all that for £86.70, including an outstandingly good coffee, a bottle of wine and 12.5% service.
Never again will I dismiss this little place as ‘ just one of those little suburban restaurants’. Small and unpretentious as it is, this is in a league of its own. Go quickly before anything changes!
What I Wore
Milk white J Brand skinny jeans, charcoal grey Joseph polo neck, pale pink Zara coat, grey suede Elia B boots, Etoupe Hermes Birkin customized by artist Boyarde Messenger.
Dear Readers, I’d be delighted to find out more about you, so please feel invited to leave a comment below or just say ‘hello’. If you enjoy reading my blog, please like, share and follow it. Thank you!