There was a time when I found London Victoria dreadful, particularly when the daily commute gets rather frustrating due to overcrowding. And for the travel hub that it is, there wasn’t much. Thank heavens, Nova Food finally came into fruition and now this armpit of a stop has become a pit stop for new gastronomic finds.
I’m not surprised why Jason Atherton decided to open Hai Cenato in Nova Victoria. He seems to know when and where to strike, and I’m glad it’s happened a stone’s throw away from where I am. Because really and truly, Jason Atherton may not be the best chef (like mentor Gordon Ramsay) but he seems to know how to grow a global empire of restaurants (like mentor Gordon Ramsay). And most of the time, he strikes gold.
The surprise, however, comes from what type of joint he opens: a New York-Italian restaurant, with a focus on pizza and then some pasta and small plates. Like, really?
Then again, he did open Sosharu, an izakaya-style restaurant which I loved. And he seems to know how to cater to localised markets in Dubai, HK, Philippines, Shanghai, Singapore, and then some. But another pizza in London? It’s a rather saturated market and you don’t have to pay premium to afford something good. So what sets Hai Cenato from the rest?
Saying that, I was curious. The place itself looks great. Downstairs, you have the restaurant with plush red leather banquettes, an open kitchen and bar counter seating. Upstairs, you have The Drunken Oyster which offers aperitivos, vermouth & tonics, and taptails. Ah, the Atherton formula lives.
I’m one of those people who like carbs on carbs on occasion. Garlic and chilli bread sounded lush, so we had a plate. The dough was rather decent although I felt a bit mucked on flavour. My idea of garlic bread is the type where it’s so garlicky you won’t kiss nobody in a year’s time.
The sharing plate of meats, olives and bread was actually good. It looks substandard, but the quality of meat was commendable.
A highlight of the night for me was the beautiful small plate of octopus. Perfectly cooked and caramelised, it’s served on a bed of lentils and whacked with a hefty serving of pesto.
Like, seriously, this is a dish for the win.
I have mixed emotions for the campanelle pasta because I wasn’t expecting to love it as much. Dressed with a generous butter sauce, it was peppered with cockles, clams and sourdough breadcrumbs. There’s texture, there’s a subtle yet robust flavour, and there’s comfort.
And then the pizzas came. If I’m being completely honest, I thought the pizzas at Hai Cenato looked better than they tasted. The dough itself was satisfactory and the toppings were of amazing quality produce. But was it love at first slice? No.
But that’s just me. Pizza, after all can be personal.
Speck d Aosta, Nduja, spinach, anchovy, harissa and olive. Nduja is that thing that just seems to make all sorts of pizza better. This was a 3/5.
Confit lamb neck, spiced aubergine, ras el hanout, yoghurt & mint. This seems like the bestseller, if I’m basing it on blogger/critic review appearances. Deservedly so, as I’ve had versions of this type of pizza elsewhere. Hai Cenato’s lamb pizza ranks a close second to Homeslice’s offering.
Verdict for Hai Cenato
Kudos to Mr Atherton and his mates for another restaurant. I think it’ll pique the interest of his fans and Victoria locals who’ve been dying for a decent spot of dining for yonks. Will I come back? Well, admittedly I visited last Summer and have not been raring to go back. But I wouldn’t mind heading up The Drunken Oyster for some good cocktails.
I liked the small plates although I wasn’t too sure about the pizzas. Doesn’t help that Franco Manco is just around the corner and I can’t help but drool on the thought of the #4 (which is, by the way, half the price of Hai Cenato’s pizzas).
2, 79 Buckingham Palace Rd, Westminster, London SW1E
Ave spend pp: £45
Pin for Later: