Sue Choularton discovers authentic "ristorante and pizzeria" Al Forno
There are lots of chain Italian restaurants in SW19, but none of them are quite like visiting a more authentic "ristorante and pizzeria" such Al Forno in Kings Road, just off The Broadway.
It promises "traditional Italian cuisine in a charming atmosphere" and the friendly Italian staff, along with an interior that seems dominated by wood, with empty Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling, certainly do create an impression of rustic Italia.
The menu choice is quite impressive - after choosing from 24 antipasti offerings, there's sections offering a range of meat, fish, salad, pasta, pizza and risotto dishes.
I plumped for Funghi Spinaci Gratinati as a starter - a fulsome-sounding combination of sauteed mushrooms, spinach, herbs, garlic, bechamel, tomato sauce and topped with cheese.
It was certainly a satisfying opener - if anything there was too much mozzarella cheese on the top, which - along with the spinach - made it quite a chewy dish.
My companion went for Crostino Al Prosciutto, but it was not quite as expected. The menu says it's home-made bread topped with mushroom, parma ham, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese baked on the oven. He got all those ingredients in a bowl - but there was no sign of any bread and again they were over-generous on the melted mozzarella.
My main course was Salmone al Cartoccio - baked fresh salmon, with mixed peppers, cherry tomatoes, garlic and black olives. It came with sauteed potatoes, as with all meat and fish dishes.
The salmon portion was very generous and it was a good piece of fish. It was also perfectly cooked, so it was still moist, and the side vegetable combination was tasty. If I'm honest, the sauteed potatoes were a bit of a disappointment - but perhaps we can forgive the Italians for not making the best job of cooking potatoes.
My friend had Pizza Fiorentina (tomato sauce, mozzarella, spinach and egg), which he quite enjoyed, although he'd have preferred a lighter base. He found the spinach tasty and liked the fact the fried egg was broken and spread across the top, although some prefer to have it in the middle with the yolk intact.
To accompany our meal, I had a glass of house rose wine, while my friend had a glass of house red. Both were pleasant and very drinkable. We also shared a mixed salad, which was fine.
Although there were more substantial desserts on the menu, we both opted for a lighter final course. I went for coconut sorbet, which came in a coconut shell and was very smooth and full of flavour.
My companion had the Italian ice cream. There were only three flavours available - chocolate, vanilla and strawberry - so he had one scoop of each - and they went down well.
There was a slight blunder at the end of the meal when my friend ordered a black filter coffee, but a white, frothy, one arrived. I ordered a strong cappuccino and that was just right.
On the table next to us were a trio of Italians, so they obviously enjoyed the authentic atmosphere. They were sharing a massive, rectangular, pizza, which came on a wooden board. Another nearby table was eating a similarly-sized pizza, and they looked fun to share.
We'd certainly had a pleasant lunch, and the £54.90 bill was reasonable for a very full three courses each, including wine and side salad. I will return again - but I think I'll gather a group together to share a big pizza to make the most of the Italian ambiance, which was arguably the most memorable thing about Al Forno.
Sue Choularton is the Editor of WimbledonSW19.com which will be launched imminently. The new site will be the latest addition to the Neighbour Net groups of websites.
March 3, 2010