Jason Atherton’s the Social Company opened its first Italian restaurant, Hai Cenato (meaning “Have you had dinner?”), in Victoria in February. It serves New York-Italian inspired cuisine. The Michelin-starred chef has been rapidly building a diverse portfolio of venues across the capital – November saw the launch of Temple and Sons in the City (reviewed here), while Japanese venue Sosharu opened in March last year in Clerkenwell.
WHERE IS IT?
In the huge new Nova development in Victoria. As well as being home to offices and residential space, the complex will have 17 restaurants and bars when complete this summer. Several are already open, including D&D’s Nordic restaurant Aster, Adam White’s Rail House Café, Aussie venue Timmy Green, wine bar Vagabond and a branch of Shake Shack. Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa is still to come.
The glass-fronted all-day venue is set across two levels, the ground floor being home to a 60-seat restaurant and the mezzanine upstairs a 70-cover bar called the Drunken Oyster. Russell Sage Studio (designer of multiple restaurants around the capital, from the Savoy Grill to Atherton’s City Social) is behind the interiors, which have a slightly industrial feel.
You enter through thick red velvet curtains into the restaurant, which is dimly lit and a slightly unusual shape, the tables and deep-red snakeskin banquettes veering around to the right, two large wood-fired pizza ovens imported from Naples forming the focal point in the open kitchen ahead. There are counter seats for diners to sit up and watch the chefs as they work.
It’s a casual, fun space – the waiting staff wear rock-band T-shirts, and a hip-hop soundtrack plays. Lining the walls are caricatures of famous chefs. There’s also a deli on the ground floor offering breakfast and lunch options to take away, and outside is a terrace for warmer weather.
A neon-lit sign akin to that for the Drunken Clam bar in TV show Family Guy leads the eye upstairs to the bar. As you go up, you’ll notice black-and-white vintage shots on the wall of New York’s Italian community. The bar itself is dark and sultry, its design inspired by vintage railway carriages. It wasn’t in use on this quiet Sunday evening but I’ll be interested to go back on a weeknight and see what it’s like.
This is informal and inventive New York-Italian cooking. The kitchen is headed up by chef patron Paul Hood, who is also at the helm at the Michelin-starred Social Eating House. The menu comprises a number of small plates, pastas, risottos, pizzas and grill dishes.
Small plates include the likes of home-cured bresaola, rocket, baby spinach, shallot, pecorino and dried pomodorini (£9.50) and grilled octopus, Cornish squid, braised lentils, cured bacon and green chilli salsa verde (£13). Among the mains are black treacle-cured pork knuckle, San Marzano tomato and white bean ribollita (£32 to share) and charcoal oven-baked cod, anchovy and almond romesco, olive and parsley (£22.50).
We decided to go for an all-out carb fest, beginning with two pasta dishes. I had the corzetti, aged beef Bolognese, tomato, sage burnt butter and Berkswell cheese (pictured below; £14), which was excellent – sweet, rich and hearty, the discs of pasta perfectly cooked. My companion went for the agnolotti, soft Seiraiss cheese, dry chilli, saffron and Acacia honey (£14), which was creamy with a warming, subtle kick.
We then moved on to the pizza selection, which is divided into rossa (red) and bianca (white) bases. Each month, a well-known chef also contributes a special pizza for the menu – Tom Kerridge has already done the honours, while Paul Ainsworth has created this month’s.
From the bianca section, I had one with confit lamb neck, spiced aubergine, Ras el hanout, yoghurt and mint (£12). Served on a base of ricotta and mozzarella, it was gorgeous, the Moroccan spicing of the slow-cooked chunks of meat balanced nicely by the cooling yoghurt. My companion had one of the rossa pizzas – homemade fennel sausage, prosciutto, stracciatella and marjoram gremolata (£12.50) – the sourdough base again spot-on, the toppings generous and flavoursome.
Because this obviously wasn’t enough starch for us, we also had a side of cracked potato, garlic aioli and rosemary sea salt (£5) – brilliantly crisp and fluffy – and, to finish ourselves off altogether, the warm brioche and salted caramel gelato sandwich (£6.50). The ice cream was delicious – I probably didn’t need the bun. We took the long walk home.
The bar serves classic Italian cocktails with a twist, with signature concoctions including Cosa Nostra: Part II (Havana three-year-old rum, Amaro Montenegro, Palo Cortado and blood orange sherbet; £9.50) and White Diamond (white truffle Disaronno amaretto, lemon, thyme, olive oil, Mediterranean tonic and egg white; £10.50). There are a couple of spritzes available on tap, a selection of vermouth and tonics and a largely Italian wine list.
Excellent. Our Italian waiter was passionate about the produce, knowledgeable about the dishes (the Bolognese ragu was made with the same amount of tomato as his mother uses back in Sorrento, he told us proudly) and keen to help.
We liked Hai Cenato a lot – great flavours, a good vibe and well priced. I’ll look forward to returning in summer when the terraces of the Nova complex should be up and running and bringing a more cosmopolitan feel to previously staid Victoria.
Restaurant 12pm-2.30pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm (10pm Sun); bar 12pm-12am (11pm Sun); deli counter 8am-3.30pm (8.30am Sun).
Small plates £8-£13; pastas £13-£14; pizzas £9.50-£12.50; grills and specials £19.50-£32. Two-course set lunch/pre-theatre £16; three courses £19.50. Wine from £4 by the glass; from £19.50 by the bottle.
Hai Cenato, Sir Simon Milton Square, Victoria; tel +44 (0)20 3816 9320; haicenato.co.uk