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Why go there: Newly opened following a move to Richmond from Barnes, this is the place to go if you like authentic, unpretentious Italian food. The pasta is perfect, with a fine variety of sauces, the mains are reliable traditional, and the desserts are to die for. Everything that made the old Caffe Mamma special is back - and Barnes' loss is Richmonds gain.
Attractive Trompe l'oeil walls amd washing lines with clothes make the rear of this spacious eatery look like an authentic Neopolitan side street. At the front the mood is more contemporary, with funky chairs and walls painted lemon and purple. The menu is a similar mix of old and new, offering familiar mozzarella salad, lasagne verdi and profiteroles, as well as fashionable black spaghetti with fresh calamari and herb sauce. Service is exhuberant.
It was one of those balmy Richmond nights, when the streets swarm with locals and tourists, all out to see and be seen. Joining the merry throng, I was struck again by the amazing variety of eateries which have sprung up here in the last couple of years. Creature of habit that I am, however, I headed for an old favourite.
Caffe Mamma is a little gem. Right in the heart of Hill Street, it has been serving the great and good for nineteen years now, and yours truly for ten. Its longevity is testment to a philosophy of excellent food at reasonable prices.
Decor is simple but effective. Diners are immediately conscious of an Italian flair, manifested in the vibrant red, white and green of the exterior. Things inside are more subtle. Wooden floors with simple chairs and tables create a homely, welcoming feel, while the walls are adorned with murals of a street scene, in front of which hang the piece de resistence: washing lines, complete with clothing, stretched from one side of the restaurant to the other. Several of the garments have been donated by the clientele.
Inspiring stuff. And the varied menu does nothing to lower the tone. Starters range from sliced aubergine baked with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce to cured beef with rocket and parmesan flakes. In the end I decided on Procuitto e Melone, also known as parma ham with melon: traditional, refreshing and dependable. My partner for the evening went for the Calamari Fritti: fresh squid deep fried in batter and served with tartar sauce. Tender and delicious, he said.
This is one of three local restaurants owned by Tim Dixon and his family. Murano - another of my favourites - is also in Richmond, with the third in Wimbledon. But this is no cheap and cheerful chain. In a world of mass market eateries, the Dixon trio forms a bastion of affordable, high quality food in highly individual surroundings.
For main course - washed down with a bottle of Chianti Classico - I chose the Ravioli Aurora: fresh pasta stuffed with spinach and ricotta served with a tomato and cream suce. Another winner. My partner chose the Pizza Italia, which consisted of mozzarella, cured beef and rocket with fresh tomato and parmesan shavings. A generous dish, full of flavour and, said my friend, better than anything he had sampled in more popular pizza joints.
So forget the big name restaurants. Settle for the food that Mamma makes.
The Green March 2003
Birthday celebrations are due for one of Richmond's best loved restaurants: Caffe Mamma on Hill Street. It'll be 20 years old this year and, despite the tidal wave of competitive establishments that have hit the town in the the intervening two decades, Caffe Mamma keeps pulling them in - many, like me, devoted regulars who tried it in its infancy in the eighties and have remained smitten ever since.
Caffe Mamma is as Italian as Sophia Loren, its decor a trompe l'oeil cobbled Neapolitan street, complete with colourful murals and washing lines decked with clothing slung from windows high above. The colours of the national flag predominate and wooden floors (occasionally slippery, be warned) and simple chairs add to the homely, no-nonsense feel to the place.
No insult to our plentiful and highly respectable chains, but why would you head for a homogenous 'Italian' outfit when you could come here? The menu's got all the traditional favourites: bresaola con rucola, proscuitto e melone, calamari; every pasta and sauce combination you could wish for (the trenette al pesto is wonderful); and pizzas from the modest Margherita to the fiery Diavola, with peppers, red onion and fresh chilli. Not to mention regular specials and a thoroughly respectable dessert menu with the usual delightful suspects: tiramisu; profiteroles; cassata; zabaglione...
The food's so fresh you can almost catch it winking and he cooking shows the kind of hearty ded