My poor neglected blog! A combination of post-Christmas dieting, lack of funds (I'm looking at you, HMRC) and a demanding baby or two has meant I've barely been anywhere fun in what feels like forever. But, a flick through my diary tells me things are looking up - with a few eating outings planned and this, last week's visit to Jason Atherton's newest gaff: Hai Cenato.
It's the latest of his dizzying array of restaurants - from tapas, to Japanese, he's no one-trick pony - and this is a New York style casual Italian with a focus on pizzas that has recently sprung up in a new complex in Victoria. Most of it is empty at the moment, but when we visited there was a new Shake Shack and a bar next door, Greenwood, which serves a blinding smokey espresso martini.
So, Hai Cenato (translates as 'have you eaten?' FYI). There were a couple of niggly things wrong when we first got there; we were seated and left menu-less and without drinks for a good 20 minutes. And the music was loud, like really too loud to hear each other. But then. The music came down to a sensible level (unrequested) and some menus and drinks appeared and all was good in the world.
It's a buzzy, very NYC kind of place, which has somehow managed to get some atmosphere into what it ostensibly a very stark, soulless kind of building complex. These pics are a gallery of caricatures of chefs Atherton has worked with / under, I think. There's a few nice little touches like this - and the crockery definitely brought out kleptomaniac tendencies.
Food wise, Instagram meant we'd been dribbling over the Corzetti with Aged Beef Bolognese, Burnt Butter, Sage and Berkswell for days, so that was a given. It was everything we wanted it to be, with perfect pasta and a deeply flavoursome ragu (perhaps a teeny bit too salty for me but I'm splitting hairs). Delish. Loved the sage especially.
For our other small plate we went for the Grilled Octopus & Cornish Squid with Bacon, Braised Lentils and Salsa Verde. My picture of this is genuinely not suitable for purpose, so check out this one instead.
You don't see octopus on enough menus in London, and it was very decent. The rest of the plate reminded me a lot of something I've had at Polpo years ago and is actually in the Polpo cookbook, which is no bad thing at all. The combination of richly flavoured lentils and a peppy green sauce is a good one.
Right; the pizzas. We're big sourdough pizza fans, so these had a lot to live up to. And they were good; they were. But don't come here expecting proper Neapolitan vibes. This is 100% a London interpretation of pizza - with a chewier, slightly less thin base than the Italian counterparts I love and far far crazier topping combos. I mean, the guest pizza (a regular thing they'll be doing where big name chefs create their own) was courtesy of Tom Kerridge and was ground venison, salami, sorrel, gorgonzola and orange zest. Spectacular in its delicious inauthenticity. Here it is:
As a sidenote, the Milano Salami is worth a visit alone - I need to know where they got that from, as it was tremendous.
The other pizza we ordered was a bit more Roman in its styling: potato, guanciale, onion and pecorino and we went all out with the optional £10 extra truffle. It was the right decision.
Look at this man's happy face:
If pizza's not your thing then firstly, who are you?, and secondly you could do worse than order the rib eye sharer as the table to our left did.
We finished off with a plate of cheese and a pot of blood orange and rosemary pannacotta. This picture, of course, does no justice as none of mine ever will. Check out the Hai Cenato Instagram for some better ones.
There was a sweet wine or two at this point as well. YUM. Then we retired upstairs to the really really really good cocktail bar The Bloody Oyster, which is like what The Blind Pig is to Social Eating House. The barman was great and knew exactly what we wanted before we even did (a limoncello and an old fashioned).
The bill came in at a bargainous £158 for 2 proseccos, 2 starters, 2 pizzas, a bottle of ok Chianti, cheese, pudding, 2 dessert wines and 2 cocktails. I don't think you'll beat that at any of his other establishments. Happy to try though.