A Trattoria In The Old Fashioned Sense

Penny Flood goes retro at Caffe Piccolo

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Eating out in Chiswick


Cafe Piccolo
26 Chiswick High Road,
London W4
020 8747 9989

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I first reviewed Caffe Piccolo a couple of years ago and I remember liking it as a value for money, traditional Italian restaurant. So when I was told that they’d made a few additions to the menu I thought it was high time to go back and take another look.

But instead of looking forward, I found I was steeping back in time. Now I know that looking back is not always wise – Lot’s wife set a dangerous precedent here – but in the world of fashion retro is all the rage with stiletto heels and (heaven preserve us) even leg warmers making a come back.

So this was not so much ‘Looking Back’ as going retro.

Retro is a good word when you’re looking at Caffe Piccolo. It is a trattoria in the old fashioned sense - the type that sprang up in the sixties and seventies and opened the minds and taste buds of the baby boomer generation to the delights of pasta and pizza and (this was a surprise) calves’ liver and onion.

And I’m delighted to report that Caffe Piccolo has stayed true to its roots and is still delivering those old stalwarts of pasta, pizza and risotto with a selection of meaty specials in the same laid back way that made trats so much a part of our growing up way back when.

But it was the dessert menu that made my heart sing. So, just as this review is a backward glance I’m going to do the review backwards and start with the desserts because, among the gelati and tiramisu was dear old Zabaglioni.

I haven’t seen it on a menu for years. It’s a mildly alcoholic concoction of eggs yolks, marsala wine and sugar stirred over a gentle heat until it becomes pale and creamy and served with those rusk-like finger biscuits that go soggy when dipped into tea.
Don’t try to make Zabaglioni yourself. In all but the most experienced hands it can easily become a mess of sweet, sticky, mildly alcoholic scrambled eggs.

It was an epiphany, I was in heaven. One spoonful and I was back in the days when eating out was part of my transition from student to grown up. So many meals, eaten in cosy trattoria, and washed down with copious amounts of Valpollicella or Chianti in a basket clad bottle, were followed by a Zabaglioni – bliss. Caffe Piccolo’s Zabag didn’t disappoint.

The big difference between then and now was that in those days we had one each. This time round, calorie wiser, we shared it.

I guess there are two types of reader out there; those who remember the sixties - the Oz trials, buying the Beatles first LP hot off the press, wore flares - and those of you who are yet to discover the marvellous unctuousness of Zabaglioni.

But moving from the past to present, how was the rest of the meal, still walking backwards?
My penne Siciliana, which is tubes of ribbed pasta with aubergine, mozzarella, garlic tomato in a creamy sauce, was lovely. But my guest’s liver was firmly stuck in the past – a bit too overcooked and overcooked with a too mushy onion gravy and mash mix. Just like he remembered, as he polished off with a satisfied grump. We washed it down with a bottle of Chardonnay chosen from an interesting wine list with prices starting at £13.50.

Earlier his eyes had lit up with the fish cakes in a red pepper sauce (last time he had fish cakes, it was with ketchup in an office canteen back then). I had stuffed mushrooms. Both were well cooked, well presented and tasty. The pepper sauce was a particular delight, sharply freshening the fish cake.

Although Caffe Piccolo is part of a small chain, they’ve managed to keep a sort of homeliness in the cooking. It’s wholesome with hearty portions that reinforce the comforting warmth and bustle of place.

Our total bill came to £65.50 but you could eat and drink well for much less. And there’s a special offer of a free bottle of wines for parties of four and a free glass of wine for couples. Caffe Piccolo therefore offers good value for money – something as welcome in the Credit Crunch Naughties as it was when Zabaglione first landed.

Penny Flood


November 3, 2008