Wednesday, 29 September 2010

A rustic feast in the heart of Hackney

Once a month, usually on Tuesday, Su Susazzagoni hosts a spectacular supper called Cena Agrituristica. This feast is all about the special secret dishes that are rarely seen outside traditional Sardinian farmhouses. Yet here they all are in Victoria Park, at a buzzing local trattoria which is a great place to meet friends, or even have a romantic meal.

The Cena is a 17-course meal to remember – a three-hour extravaganza that is the antithesis of fast food; I suggest you have nothing more than Ryvita for lunch.

We arrived to a warm welcome from sweet, smiling host Elena, and after settling in, the first of ten starter dishes arrived. As always, eating here was an education: “There isn’t a restaurant in Sardinia where you won’t find seafood salad”, explained Elena. She was rightly proud of her Sardinian meatballs, made to ‘nanny’s recipe’, which involves a half and half mix of pork and beef, with breadcrumbs and nutmeg.

Still on our starters, we tucked into a vegetarian antipasti of chargrilled aubergine, courgette and pepper (that to me seemed classic Italian) as well as a unique dish of chicken livers in an onion and vinegar sauce. My husband declared, “even the lentils are yummy” – words I never thought would be uttered from his Scottish lips. Elena reveals the secret of their tastiness, “I am the chef’s worst nightmare: I made him cook the lentils three times this evening until they were right.” I sipped slowly on the robust red wine – Rosso Valle del Tirso from the centre of Sardinia – and taking Elena’s advice, paused for a little break before the next course.

Malloredus cun sattizzu (Sardinian pasta with fresh aromatic sausage) was served with ricotta and spinach ravioli in a delicate yet rich tomato sauce. The sausages were divine, pure pork, a little salt and fennel.

We tucked into melt in the mouth suckling pork with roasted potatoes and crudités and managed to finish with dessert of sweet, star-shaped biscuits that were surprisingly – and gratifyingly – delicate.

“It’s heaven” announced my husband at the end. Seconds later, I heard a man on the next table repeat the same words. I would add that it’s great value, with generous portions and good quality ingredients. This is fine, unadulterated food, hand made, prepared with love and served with confidence.

The Cena Agrituristica costs £45 per person, and comes with a bottle of wine for two to share.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Riverside Cafe

At the bottom of the huge sweep of Springfield Park’s Spring Hill, which looks as if it could have been transplanted from Hampstead Heath, is the beautifully basic Riverside Cafe. Sit in the café’s steamy interior or on one of the casually scattered chairs next to the River Lea and the Lea Rowing Club.

I normally go for a faultless and very reasonably priced (under a fiver) English breakfast, but they serve good omelettes, filled baguettes and a range of cakes too. Despite appearances and the bargain prices, the service is (generally) friendly and so efficient it would put most sophisticated restaurants to shame. Just across the water are the wilds of Walthamstow Marsh Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, where an old breed of cattle still graze in the summer. It is just one part of the pretty Lee Valley Park, which languishes for a full 26 miles along the banks of the River and is London’s biggest open space, crossed by a network of footpaths.

Riverside Cottage, Spring Hill, Clapton E5 9BL Tel: 0208 920 3994