Hai Cenato, London Victoria

MsB and I visited Jason Atherton’s latest venture, Hai Cenato (Italian for ‘have you had dinner’), in Victoria’s brand-new Nova food district for lunch today, and we loved the food. The theme is New York Italian, even though we found it neither particular New York nor particular Italian (apart from the general upmarket U.S. diner theme and the fact they include pizza and pasta on their menu). We love food, but somehow had so far completely missed out on Atherton’s large number of restaurants worldwide, which include Pollen Street Social, who managed to win a Michelin star in their opening year. Prior to that the chef and restaurateur was executive chef at Gordon Ramsay‘s Michelin starred Maze.

I went for the set three-course lunch for £19.50, which according to the menu included Pink Lady apple, hazelnuts & parmesan creme fraiche, lovage, crispy kale for starters. I only spotted one of two leaves of lovage, but to make more than up for it the starter turned out to be a salad with lots of salad leaves.

The main, according to the menu consisted of cured & confit pork belly, preserved lemon, mascarpone, grilled trevise (a type of red chicory from Treviso, also known as radicchio), pancetta, rocket. There was plenty of fresh trevise, some grilled, partially burnt one (lovely note), but I did not spot any mascarpone or preserved lemon. Again, quite to my liking, just strange that the menu differs from the actual meal.

For desert my wife (who’s the one with the sweet tooth in our relationship) asked me to order a cone of salted caramel gelato (there were plenty of other ice cream and sorbet flavours to choose from).

  

My wife ordered a la carte: sea bass crudo, blood orange, lime, dill, celery (£10) for starters, and charcoal oven baked cod, anchovy & almond romesco, olive & parsley (£22.50) as her main.

  

The starters were incredibly nice. I’m normally not much of a salad person, but this salad with parmesan creme fraiche ticked all the right boxes. The sea bass crudo (similar to ceviche, raw bits of fish marinated in citric juice and herbs) was divine. It was amazing to see how the dill and celery slices worked really well with the marinade and orange slices.

We also thoroughly enjoyed our mains. My wife found the flavour of the romesco sauce slightly overwhelming and had very little of it, I loved the sauce just like it was and we both enjoyed the cod, which had been oven-baked to perfection, half a minute less and it would have been underdone.

  

I have to admit that when I ordered the cured, and the (cured and) confit pork belly with bacon (pancetta, also a form of cured pork belly), I was aware that I had made a rather courageous (or potentially very silly) choice. Pork belly consists of fat for the most part, confit usually means long slow cooking in a deep bath of fat or oil at low temperatures of a fraction of the temperature used for deep frying, often below 100 degrees Celsius, then storing the meat for two months or more before serving it. Bacon is also known to contain a bit of fat. So this all sounded like an awful lot of fat. However, the guys in the kitchen (Paul Hood and his team) did a great job. The three variations of pork belly served were no bit oilier than they were supposed to be, but so soft and juicy some bits literally fell apart if you started to cut into their sides. The vegetables went very well with the meal and I liked the light brown sauce.

The ice cream was nice. Talking about sweet stuff, though, one bit of advice, if you like cider, don’t order cider at Hai Cenato. The only one they have is French Sassy rose cider, which tastes like carbonated melted gummy bears. (MsB, who hates cider, really loved the taste.)

Both starters and both mains were very generously sized, which is a good thing in our book. Service was friendly, helpful, and relatively quick. We weren’t too impressed with the interior décor, which seemed a bit haphazard and cheap for a place like this. On the other hand it’s nice to have a wide view of the kitchen and overall the décor and furniture look pleasant enough. We’ll be back in due course and try some of the other dishes. 3.75 out of 5 on our scale.

For another restaurant review click here for Ekeberg Restaurant, Oslo.

 

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