So what’s the draw of Twickenham? It’s got a riverfront – undeveloped for decades for some inexplicable reason. Its high street offers a selection of small chain stores with the usual sprinkling of charity shops. The rugby stadium is an asset with (for the most part) well-behaved supporters who enjoy the variety of bars and restaurants in the area.
I must have passed Zizzi on numerous occasions but, to be honest, I have never noticed it. Having opened its first restaurant in 1999, the chain now has more than 100 across the UK. The Twickenham branch has undergone a makeover and it’s now a much lighter and brighter space. It has the same general theme as others in the extensive chain but as manager Maria explains, each branch has some subtle local references. Zizzi Twickenham has an Astroturf wall and a few words written by Alexander Pope. No, dear ill-educated reader, Mr. Pope is not a rugby player. He was a celebrated poet (1688 – 1744) who lived about half a mile from where the restaurant now stands.
Zizzi offers a traditional Italian menu of pasta, pizza and risotto along with some meat and salads, but we wanted to try their small plates, Cichetti. Think Italian tapas and you will have the idea. There is a good selection of vegetarian specialities and meaty dishes to please every palate. They offer an alternative to a full meal, but a few plates together would be a substantial dinner. Great for a group or for a family of even the fussiest eaters.
We ordered six savoury dishes and later a dessert, and that constituted a very reasonable meal for both me and my companion. Some hot dishes and others cold: I would recommend eating the hot ones as they arrive. Saccottini – two mini calzone: one with spicy n’Duja sausage and rocket, and one with pesto and aubergine filling – should be eaten as soon as they are served.
Bruschetta ai Funghi – Mushrooms in a rich mascarpone, wine and thyme sauce, served on top of mini ciabatta bread – was rich and creamy and would surely be a favourite with the kids.
Gamberi – King prawns cooked in a fish and wine stock with a pinch of chilli, served with freshly baked dough sticks – were succulent and the broth well-flavoured; so delicious that I was sorry we hadn’t ordered extra bread for mopping up the juices. Just a hint of agreeable heat from the spice.
Polpette al Pomodoro – Mini beef meatballs with tomatoes, onions and mushrooms – also offered a sauce that invited bread-dipping. These were a small version of the meatballs you would likely have sampled in restaurants in Italy or even, if you are as lucky as I to have Italian friends, at a family dinner table.
Spiedini di Pollo – Oven-baked chicken skewers with roasted peppers, rosemary and lemon – were tender, with the roasted peppers offering a sweetness that bathed the meat. An attractive presentation and a delight with a chilled glass of Prosecco.
The star of our collection was Polenta Croccante – Crunchy polenta with a sprinkle of grana padano cheese and a garlic mayonnaise dip. This is a simple preparation of batons of light polenta with a crunchy coating. It’s one of those dishes that rely just as much on texture as flavour for its success. Be warned – these could be addictive.
The man sitting opposite me has a sweet tooth so needed Gelato Con Frittelle – a scoop of Kitty’s delicious pistachio, cioccolata and fior di latte gelato served on top of freshly made mini doughnuts – which was a fitting end to a fun casual meal. It’s that contrast of hot and cold that’s always appealing. An espresso to continue that Latin theme gave us the caffeine to help us home.
The Zizzi chain is part of Gondola Holdings, a group of restaurants including the Italian-style Pizza Express, Milano and ASK, as well as hamburger restaurant Byron, and Kettner’s champagne bar. Zizzi has a central kitchen as you would expect for a chain of that size but the individual restaurants cook as much as possible from fresh. The Zizzi olive oil has just won a Gold at The Great Taste Awards, and that care in selection of ingredients suggests that Zizzi is making an effort to choose foods that offer best quality.
Zizzi will see me return to try dishes from the main menu, another glass of Prosecco and a few hours spent in a restaurant that I am pleased to have as my local Italian. It’s casual and convenient and you won’t need a mortgage to enjoy an evening here.
36 York Street, Twickenham TW1 3LJ
Phone: 020 8538 9024
Monday – Saturday, 12 noon to 11pm
Sunday, 12 noon to 10.30pm
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018