That Hai Cenato was going to exude an impossibly-trendy vibe, was a foregone conclusion long before the curtains were raised on the new Italian eatery in the Nova Victoria development. This being the ninth and latest venture from Jason Atherton, the Michelin-starred chef behind some of London’s most celebrated restaurants…
Fashioned after the casual New York-style of Italian restaurants, Hai Cenato translates to have you had dinner? Finding ourselves craving the comfort that only a pizza can provide on a Sunday night, fellow foodie, Anisha and I really didn’t need a second hint to head over and check it out!
To cut a long review short, our dinner turned out to be only reasonably good, if not the sensational affair previously experienced at Atherton’s other establishments such as Sosharu. But the restaurant wooed us nonetheless, with its dark and moody character injecting an edgy flair into its otherwise commercial surrounds…
The large-ish space has been quite cleverly divided across cosy booths and high-tables positioned by the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. A gleaming counter bar beckons invitingly at the centre, offering a prime view of the flurry of ongoing activity in the open-plan kitchen, with its impressive wood-fired ovens.
An interior designer by profession, Anisha was particularly quick to appreciate the small but impactful details, from the vintage lights and gracefully peeling wallpaper to the grid of hand-drawn caricatures lining a far wall. These portray other inspiring chefs, some of whom will be contributing a monthly pizza special to the menu (this month’s guest chef is Tom Kerridge).
While pizza is a focal point, the menu also spans pastas, grills and of course – small sharing plates.
We started on a light note with crunchy chunks of Pink Lady apples, crispy sprout leaves and hazelnuts laced with a tart creme fraiche dressing. As far as salads go, this one was as perky as it gets!
A carbs on carbs situation swiftly ensued.
Undeterred by the relative lack of vegetarian-friendly options, we requested to have one of the pizza bianca combinations (that’s a “white” pizza without a tomato base) sans pancetta. Artfully charred around the crust, the chewy, salty base was the perfect foil to the soft yet surprisingly-sharp blend of ricotta and fontina cheese, with artichoke and rocket leaves adding a glistening touch.
The agnolotti had an exotic appeal to it with the promise of a rich saffron sauce punctuated by dry chilli and Acacia honey. Sadly, the kitchen had run out of these little pasta squares, and it would have taken a while to churn out another fresh batch for us…
So we went for seconds of pizza, this time with a traditional tomato-base wreathed with mozzarella, grilled and marinated vegetables and an oregano season seasoning. A beauty to behold for sure, but its execution was marred by a slightly-too-sweet and watered down tomato sauce.
Well and truly stuffed by this point, we forlornly passed over the salted caramel gelato sandwich (aptly described as an ice cream burger in one review)… But a scoop of chocolate mint, mint stracciatella gelato in a cone was just as spot on, the razor-sharp tinge of mint and basil refreshing our palate just enough for us to plump for a dark chocolate & coffee fondant.
The pud was just as good as you’d expect it to be anywhere – what really set it apart was the wallop of creme fraiche served on a bed of puffed rice, a touch of butterscotch adding the only sweet note…
We left happy and full… But would we venture back?
Well Hai Cenato wouldn’t be my first choice for a sourdough Neapolitan (call me old-fashioned, but Francomanca still holds the crown for me); while no new restaurant could ever hope to displace the special draw of my cosy local Italian.
But you might just spot us there if we find ourselves in the area – perhaps for a breakfast pizza ahead of meetings, a pre-theatre bite, or swaying to the beat of the restaurant’s hip hop soundtrack in The Drunken Oyster – the buzzing cocktail bar upstairs.
Having said that, there are a plethora of other new and exciting openings in Nova Victoria which command attention too, from Aster (for a Scandinavian smörgåsbord) to Timmy Green and Shakeshack (hellooo ‘shroom burger). Watch this space for more details!
Hai Cenato, 2 Sir Simon Milton Square, Victoria, London SW1E5DJ