Nonna’s Kitchen is my kids’ favourite restaurant, certainly in the area close to their Hertfordshire home, and therefore a logical place for our final meal out before daughter returns to Bristol for year 2 of university life. Italian is comfort food to millions of Brits but this is Sicilian comfort food, for which, contrary to Adam’s view, you don’t have to dress like an extra from the Godfather – and my clothes did not make me look like a mafioso anyway!
Ah, but the food does the talking without the need for Marlon Brando impersonations, and one wonderful thing about what might otherwise have been a fairly plain rectangular box of a dining room is that you have lots of tempting options to lust after on your way in, and to buy on your way out.
Firstly there are the home-made ice creams; then there are the home-made cakes, of which more later. Pass by the wine and the coffee and juicing machines, noting as you do a Vespa hung from the corner wall, then keep going and you are in deli country. Fresh home-made pasta to drool over, gorgeous breads, cheese, charcuterie, and there you are, bang in front of the open kitchen at the back end of the restaurant. Instantly you know this is going to be a delectable experience
Trouble is, for a Sunday lunch we were not going to try the full dining experience, so here is a review of the trattoria-like components of Nonna’s Kitchen, with a review of the real deal and choices from the starters and main courses to follow when I get to take a friend for the full monte in due course.
Not that any of it was less than decent, though part of the problem for any restaurant serving pizza and pasta is the very ubiquity of said dishes. They are everywhere to be seen, from motorway service stations to cafes to supermarkets – everyone does pizza and pasta, after a fashion. So if you’re going to do either or both you might just as well do them properly, so I’m very happy to report the pasta here is made fresh each day, and tastes like it, and the pizzas are cooked in a proper wood oven, the sort that costs £10k a pop.
The only downside was that while the pasta menu looked highly inviting, it lacked on this occasion any risotti, surely an essential component of a truly authentic Italian menu? It compensated by including pasta dishes with fish – respectively swordfish, sardines, clams and prawns. I’m assuming they have a good supplier who gets quality products straight from New Billingsgate, though on a Sunday that might be tricky. As it happens, we didn’t choose the fish, but it’s great to see it there.
We started on this occasion with garlic breads, with and without cheese. These came as 8 inch mini-pizzas and vanished in a trice. All very nice, though I missed a starter – for which the restaurant is blameless. In fact, the waiter was a model of professionalism throughout, one component of which is not to harangue diners by trying to flog them more food, all the better to feel relaxed.
Mains consisted of his standard Margherita for Adam, which, unusually he failed to finish – allowing me to have a sample. It was perfectly decent, mildly charred and cheesy, without demonstrating the credentials to standing out as a world leading pizza. My view is that while traditional whisper thin base is much the best, it should be perfectly crisped with a hint of singeing on the outer crust. To cook pizzas like that requires years of experience, something that you can never achieve with mass produced marvels. Anyway, you’ll have to take my word for that, since Adam didn’t want me to photograph his pizza – the best view above being heavily disguised by his jumper.
Lindsey and I both sampled pastas. Her Rigatoni Della Nonna is described thus: “Fresh Short Tube Pasta With Meatballs And Tomato Sauce.” The home-made (that word again) meatballs were masterpieces, and the tomato sauce did achieve the rare distinction of tasting like it had come from fresh tomatoes, actually much harder than you might expect.
My Tagliatelle Alla Boscaiola can be deconstructed as follows: “Fresh Ribbon Pasta With Mushrooms, Italian Sausage & Tomato Sauce”. The minimal description and avoidance of inflammatory adjectives, the sort employed extensively by chain restaurants (“succulent”, “tasty” etc.) – and the worse the food, the more inflated the descriptions seem to be. Both pasta dishes excelled in a slightly bijou fashion. There was sufficient, certainly not excessive, and it all proved tasty. By contrast, the £3.50 dressed side salad Lindsey and I shared was very ample between the two of us, even if Adam thinks side salads a foodie abomination.
Spurning dessert options we got the bill and made straight for the cake counter so Lindsey could buy half a dozen of the small cakes – 60p miniatures apiece, each slightly larger than your average petits fours and served in many varieties (see pics above.) I bought half a dozen for us to share too, but couldn’t resist taking home a full-size cannoli, if only to quote the legendary line from the Godfather – “Leave the gun, bring the cannoli.”
Ah, bliss. Yes, a very good restaurant then. If I were to be critical, maybe the atmosphere is too redolent of school canteens and could be improved by breaking up the room with screens or something to give a more intimate feeling. The acoustics are not great either, possibly one reason why there was no music playing. However, I hear that at weekends the central third of the restaurant is cleared to make way for a dance floor, something their mum has tried out for herself. Not sure I’d be up to a spot of jiving these days, but nice to know they can transform the place for the evening. However, I can see why diners flock to Nonna’s Kitchen and it would be fun to do the other half of this review sometime soon.