Sunday, 30 April 2017

Hai Cenato & the Drunken Oyster

Hai Cenato, as pretty much everyone in London now knows, translates as 'Have you had dinner?' and is Jason Atherton's latest venture. Situated in the increasingly interesting Nova food centre in Victoria and launched in collaboration with Social Eating House Chef Patron Paul Hood, the focus is on New York/Italian food: small plates, sourdough pizza, pasta, risotto and grills in relaxed surroundings and at accessible prices. So far, so good.

There is a deli on the ground floor (which we didn't visit) for those after a quick breakfast/brunch, or perhaps stocking up for some al desko dining. Entrance to the restaurant is through giant tinted glass doors opened for you by sharp-suited staff who wouldn't look out of place hustling a president into a black limo. Inside, the ambiance is quite intimate for a large-ish space, with low lighting (hence, apologies for the quality of the photographs) and a mixture of seating. Caricatures of Atherton's fellow chefs adorn the walls (sparking much competitive muttering at nearby foodie tables) and there is a monthly 'guest chef' pizza from one of the greats.

We visited when the pizza was courtesy of Tom Kerridge; the signature sourdough base came topped with ground spiced venison, Milano salami, Gorgonzola dolcelatte, sorrel and lemon zest. Clearly we couldn't eat here without trying this - and I'm very glad we did. The buzz about the pizza here is entirely justified; the huge domed pizza ovens that dominate the counter area like 1950s sci-fi robots really deliver.

I've eaten an awful lot of pizza in my time, but this was one of the best. Distinctive but balanced flavours in the topping (although, note to self - grated lemon zest is really hard to distribute evenly over anything) and an absolutely first-class base. Thin, crispy, chewy, with a tangy, sourdough kick, this was seriously impressive.
To go with, we were recommended a light and very drinkable Villa Mura Malvasia Veneto, pretty reasonably-priced at £25. There are five reds and five whites available by the glass too, if you prefer.

We also ordered the confit guinea fowl risotto and some satisfyingly crunchy cracked potato with garlic aioli, rosemary and sea salt; imagine serving up the roasties and then scraping the bits from the bottom of the tray. Wonderful.

By now I was so carbed-out by my holy trinity of bread, rice and potatoes that I didn't have room for the planned mini gelato cones that you can get from the deli, so it was straight off upstairs to the in-house cocktail bar, 'The Drunken Oyster'.

The bar is dimly-lit and cosy in a members' club kind of way. We could have sat and reminisced about the pizza with the 'taptails' - a range of prosecco-based cocktails literally on tap - but, though tempting, we decided to hit the main list.

The Cosa Nostra was one of my favourites: a sophisticated mix of Havana 3yr rum, Amaro Montenegro, Palo Cortado and blood orange sherbert. The seasonal bellinis are a refreshing, lighter alternative and the affable staff are happy to make your favourite to order if it's not on the list (as witnessed by my companion, for whom an evening is just not complete without at least one espresso martini).

I'm going back. I'm having the grilled octopus starter. I'm having the gelato. I'm having taptails. And I'm always, always having the pizza.

Yours, with a new pizza pitstop,

London Girl About Town xx