I am always a bit apprehensive eating near tourists spots. Call me cynical but you can hardly blame restaurant owners for cutting corners in order to maximise profits. And that was exactly what flashed across my mind when Wife redeemed a meal on Toptable at an Italian restaurant beside Tower Bridge, the mother of all attractions in London.
Perhaps the saving grace is that Cantina del Ponte is located on the south bank of the Thames. Tourists generally turn right and head towards City Hall (who wouldn’t be drawn an egg shaped structure) and HMS Belfast (and yes, a battleship as well). That leaves the restaurants in Butler Wharf, where Cantina del Ponte is, fighting for those tourists venturing up Shad Thames. Even if the tourists do walk down the picture perfect path, chances are they would be stuffed full of the cheap fish and chips peddling opposite Tower of London. To survive, these restaurants would have to be of a certain standard in order to entice Londoners.
Adorned with shelves displaying bottles of Italian wines and fresh produce including cloves of garlic, bunches of chilli, peppers and even Italian pasta, Cantina del Ponte (Wine Cellar of the Bridge) reminded me of just that in more ways than one. The spotlights illuminating the main restaurant area provided the much needed warmth hue of light given the miserable weather outside. Murals of busy market scenes filled the walls added to the ambience.
A couple of reviews I read about Cantina del Ponte pointed out that its staff had some problems with the English language. While we did notice that, the level of service was not once compromised. For lunch, other than the ala carte menu, Cantina del Ponte offers a two course set for £12 and three courses for £15, which are great deals considering that a dessert alone starts from just under a fiver. However, like most set meals, the items are restricted to just a few on the full menu.
Starter was baccala mantecato con bruschetta. The bruschetta was a bit soft, which was just the way I liked it. I have had hard crusted ones and the toppings went all over before I could even venture a bite. What we particularly like was the salt cod beaten in olive oil, which served like a smooth spread over the bruschetta. The dish could be a bit dry but nothing a splash of olive oil couldn’t remedy.
Spaghetti con le sarde was simply spaghetti with bitesize chunks of sardines. The parsley breadcrumbs tossed in it gave the spaghetti a nice rugged texture. That said, sardines being sardines, its tiny bones, which are almost impossible to be removed during preparation, was a constant irritation when we tucked into the dish. A gentleman sitting next to us ordered the same and after a few bites, set the sardines aside and went for the spaghetti only.
Petto di pollo alla Milanese con patate arrosto e rucola turned out much better than expected. Not only was the milanese chicken thicker and juicier than most that I came across, the sea salt sprinkled on it helped as well. It was quickly dispatched with mouthfuls of rocket and roast potatoes.
I am one of those who would go all out to avoid fruits or anything that contain fruits for dessert. I just couldn’t bear the taste of citrus intermixing with the heavier mains that I had. So that left us with tiramisu. Cantina del Ponte’s tiramisu came with a little chocolate powder imprint of a fork on its plate, which came across as a tad tacky. I could imagine the chef just laying a fork over the plate followed by a generous sprinkle of chocolate powder. The tiramisu itself however was of the right mix of cream and cake though I thought its alcohol content could be lesser.
All in all, we had a satisfying lunch despite the Little One fussing around halfway through the meal. While she was suitably amused by the provision display shelves not to mention the murals on the walls, the staff did come by every now and then to amuse her while we shoved our food in. In fact, this is one place that I gladly offered a gratuity above the usual 12.5% service charge.
After that, I was told by my Italian colleague that she loved Cantina del Ponte and know of others who go back on a regular basis. So the next time you’re in the area, take a walk down Shad Thames, pop by Cantina del Ponte for a meal and then have a leisure stroll along the Southbank. On a good day, that would be an experience indeed.
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Cantina del Ponte Shad Thames review - even the Italians love it