Cannizaro House, Wimbledon SW19

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NB:This review dates from February 1997

I've worked within about a mile of Cannizaro House for years without having the faintest idea that hidden away in a corner of Wimbledon Common there is this superb country house style hotel and restaurant. News that chefs from Wimbledon had won a number of recent competitions and awards brought the place to my attention and when some friends asked where we would like to be taken out to dinner I wasted no time in suggesting Cannizaro House.

On arrival everything was far grander than I'd imagined and I was a bit worried that we might have overstepped our hosts' generous hospitality. They looked comfortable enough already sitting close to a grand piano that was strutting its stuff unaided. A very good flesh and blood pianist then sat down apologising for his phantom electronic deputy. Given the close proximity of all this glorious piano jazz, we took rather a long time over the menu. Waiters appeared from all directions at first, only to disappear in exasperation then punishing us by leaving us to stew for a while. At least we had some nice palate tinglers to console ourselves with. We mixed and matched dishes from both table d'hôte (TDH) and a la carte menus.

The dining room is very comfortable with good well padded chairs. If one is to linger over serious food, one's bottom needs looking after as much as one's tummy. Tables were beautifully decorated and carefully set. I appreciate such attention to detail and I am rarely disappointed by cooking that fails to match. More often it's the other way round and the good work of the kitchen brigade is let down by slipshod front of house management.

The a la carte menu is pretty extensive with a wide spectrum of prices. Starters go from Stg 3.90 for soup, to Stg 12.40 for a Cushion of smoked salmon filled with crab and asparagus, accompanied by mango and pink peppercorn dressing with crostini - phew! The more expensive the dish the longer the descriptions. A salad of roasted peppers and grilled provencal vegetables with polenta, oregano and garlic oil (Stg 4.90) was well caramelised without a hint of burning.

Seared scallops were accompanied by a crisp sharp passion fruit dressing, and a pressed terrine of smoked chicken was attractively layered - the aromatic smokiness was set off excellently with caramelised shallots, artichoke and pistachio nuts. Looking at the menu again as I write this, I'm not surprised we took so long dithering over it. The starters really do look creative and original. This is what we mean by modern British cookery: eclectic, informal, experimental even, and always beautifully presented and arranged. Wilder flights of fancy such as baked fillet of cod and foie gras with wild mushrooms strike me as perhaps a bit eccentric, but when I try such dishes I'm very often won over.

A Californian chardonnay, Glen Ellen Reserve 1994 was pleasant enough, perhaps a wee bit over the top at Stg 18.50 a bottle for a wine that costs about a fiver. Main courses start at Stg 15.20 for a gateau of salmon coulbiac with a broad bean fricassee in a chive butter sauce, but there are four interesting vegetarian dishes all under Stg 14.00.

It beats me why flambé dishes have to be the priciest thing on the menu, Stg 23.75 no less, considering the cooking is relegated to a mere waiter rather than an award winning chef such as Cannizaro's Stephen Wilson. We decided to put the waiter to the test. He knocked up a steak Diane with flames that narrowly missed the ceiling and which looked like a dog's breakfast compared with the beautiful creations that came from the kitchen. My host seemed to enjoy it well enough.

Medallions of lamb from the TDH menu were rosy centred and came with an spinach timbale that was both delicately flavoured and deliciously textured and which recently won a prize at Hotelympia. Also from the TDH was lovely chicken ballontine filled with cream cheese and chive mousse served with a sauté of wild mushrooms and broad beans. There is an excellent selection of interesting fish at Cannizaro House - we tried a salmon, monkfish and scallop chowder that combined well with delicate garlic puréed potatoes and lovely light flaky carrot and spinach dumplings. The house claret at Stg 19.75 was reasonably good drinking if not particularly good value.

We girded our loins for the puddings. A feather light ginger and apricot steamed pudding was light years away from the nursery while a lemon tart was enjoyable but might have been a little zestier. The star of the show was the licorice parfait, beautifully rolled up in a perfect cylinder of sponge and baked meringue in citrus syrups. A truly delicious concoction worth every penny of Stg 4.95. Our host clearly had it in for the head waiter who was forced to perform once again. This time it was crêpe suzette, which after more flamboyant pyrotechnics looked more like an elderly face flannel. But looks were again deceptive as our host's eyes lifted heavenwards, we presumed in ecstasy. But Stg 8.50 for a pancake? I tell you this waiter chappie should be starting up his own joint as chef patron; he can clearly command top whack!

I've just noticed that coffee and petits fours are Stg 2.50 if you're on the TDH menu and Stg 2.85 on the a la carte. Odd isn't it!

If you're visiting London for the tennis at Wimbledon you must visit Cannizaro House, but you'd better book up well in advance! The Hotel accommodation looks very luxurious, the recent refurbishment was carried out for a staggering 5.8 million pounds. Which is probably why the crêpe suzette costs the earth!

Cannizaro House Hotel and Restaurant
West Side, Wimbledon Common, London SW19 4UF
Tel: 020 8879 1464

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