I wanted to hate Cenacolo with every fibre of my being.
The ‘Steak and pasta’ joint occupies the Des Voeux Road space that, until relatively recently, housed my absolute favourite restaurant, Roda.
Roda was pretty much perfect; an exemplar of what modern dining should be; serious but inviting, butch with graceful delivery, injecting vital life into an area bereft of identity.
However, gone is the glorious open kitchen and fire stove, crudely covered by a faux brickwork. Gone are the draught taps of house wine and small batch ales, replaced by Italian nun’s piss
(Peroni). Gone is the cosmopolitan crowd of international gastronomes, replaced by miserable families buried in their phones and their distain for each other.
But, remarkably, I didn’t hate Cenacolo.
In fact, I quite liked it.
Cenacolo is not trying to be anything she’s not. She knows she’s no Scarlett Johnson. She knows that, even with a bit of work, she’s a solid five-and-a-half-out-of-ten. She knows she only has to satisfy easy to satisfy punters – and satisfy them she does. With simple starters, tasty pasta and unassuming mains; she meets, but feels no need to surpass expectations.
Mrs A, the juvenile terrorists and I were shown to a table (a table very familiar to Mrs A and I from a different life) and presented with sweet milk bread and watery balsamic vinegar. Fortunately, this was the low point.
My starter of mussels that followed set a course of surprising enjoyment. A small tapas dish containing a dozen or so plump, fresh mussels swam in rich peppery liquor. It included a side of lightly charred sourdough, which had it been served as the bread course, would have provided a much more hospitable start.
Apart from the aforementioned brick wall, all other fixture and fittings in Cenacolo remain pretty much as they did when Roda was above the door (assumably snapped-up in a fire-sale, job-lot from the JIA Group). This is no bad thing. There are not too many restaurants of Cenacolo’s ambition that could aspire to the washing machine art instillation or the award-winning interior design.
As you might expect, the menu is big with a wide array of neo-European dishes. Luckily the variety of dishes I’m able to select recently increased by fifty-percent. No parent will ever admit to the most rewarding aspect of procreation; the ability to order two main dishes without reprisal. So, I ordered a child-sized portion of meatball spaghetti in full knowledge I’d enjoy the majority of it. What I hadn’t anticipated was the size of the child-sized portion – it was twice the size of the juvenile terrorist’s head! But not to worry, the tomato sauce in which the meatballs sat had a pure tomato sweetness, unsullied by too may ingredients or an over ambitious chef. I ate far too much of it while I waited for my main to arrive.
… which was steak (I know, I know). The steak was absolutely fine. And I don’t mean that as a slight. It was well cooked and came with pretty good fries.
Mrs A enjoyed a tiramisu while I enjoyed mopping tomato sauce from the juvenile terrorist’s face. All in all, it was a very pleasant evening.
The overall experience was akin to meeting a most awful person only to realise they’re actually rather affable, charming even. There are many problems with Cenacolo, but none are insurmountable, and none detract from the rather cheery atmosphere.
It doesn’t happen very often, and it might be a sign of my advanced life stage, but Cenacolo met my expectation and did everything I needed it to on an early Sunday evening. Where once Sunday evenings were occupied with the advanced stages of a hangover, The National and some good French cheese, now I’m very happy to while away an hour or two in a restaurant like Cenacolo. It provided my daughter with sustenance, Mrs A with adequate white wine and me with simple, tasty food. Make a reservation expecting the same and you’ll be quite content.