Paul Critcher enjoys the warmth of Italy at Al Forno in New Malden
I’m told that the biggest compliment that you can pay a chef is to leave a clean plate. If that’s the case, then Al Forno’s chef, Guido, must have been beaming from ear to ear as our plates returned from the dining room – we had wiped them clean, so tasty was the food.
It’s easy to see why this Italian restaurant on New Malden High Street was voted ‘Best Family Friendly Restaurant’ in the 2016 T&L Food and Drink Awards, the staff have a natural friendliness that you can’t fake, and the attentive owners Mina and Max can’t do enough for you.
Mina led us through the menu, picking out some of her favourites that would best showcase the food. And there’s a lot to choose from – pasta, risottos, fish, meat, pizzas. It has all the Italian classics and more, but what’s even more important is it’s all beautifully fresh and the cooking is spot on.
The oven-baked flatbread topped with garlic, olive oil, sea salt and rosemary was a lovely way to kick off the meal, perfectly set off with a large glass of fruity Merlot. For starters, a platter of whitebait and calamari was suitably light and fresh, and the goats’ cheese polenta with wild mushroom was buttery and packed with flavour.
We visited on a Tuesday, a quiet night for many restaurants, but not at Al Forno where combinations of friends, family and couples were giving the dining room a happy buzz, and there were plenty of waiting staff on hand.
So to the mains. I’m not usually a big fan of risotto, but the seafood risotto was sunshine on a plate – the prawns combining beautifully with the fresh courgette and cherry tomatoes with a subtle hint of chilli. Meanwhile, the pasta with sausage, truffle olive oil and porcini mushrooms was well flavoured and delightfully ‘truffley’.
Having decided that diets can always wait for another day, we wrapped up the meal with a decadent hazelnut semi-freddo that had us both smiling.
This is not ‘fine dining’, but it is ‘dining that is fine’ – great cooking, attentive service and a friendly atmosphere. As the Italians say ‘Che bella cosa’. I think I have to agree!
Al Forno 107 High St, New Malden