Como Garden in Kensington: Italian sharing plates that will restore your faith in simple pleasures
Somewhat counterintuitively, as we sit down at Como Garden’s Kensington terrace, it feels almost as if we are sat inside, looking out on a Mediterranean courtyard. The restaurant design is inspired by the lush botanical scenery surrounding the eponymous Northern Italian lake, the space dripping with foliage and centred around an olive tree which sprouts up between tables. But while this decor is rooted in Lombardy, the food is grounded in traditions across the country, offering up an array of regional classics. Spanish co-owners and twins Alberto and Arian Zandi somewhat fittingly also run the neighbouring sister venture Zuaya; this Latin-American restaurant is born from a very different culinary culture, but like the proprietors, the siblings share one key trait that give them a striking family resemblance: a tapas-style menu that is made to be shared.
We start by splitting a raviolo, a soft pasta pillow that may just be more inviting than any other cushion in the world. Punchy gorgonzola sauce meets its match in a sweet pear filling, creating a moment of inner-mouth alchemy that’s even more enjoyable when experienced alongside a companion, both of us able to celebrate the same fleeting ecstasy and then jointly grieve its passing. The arancini strips us of our mourning clothes immediately, the cheesy interior and crisp deep-fried shell met with a subtly sweet honey drizzle.
It wouldn’t be fair to sample Italian cheeses without checking out the recommended aubergine parmigiana. It’s hard to know where one element ends and the next begins in this pot of molten joy, and though the stringy mozzarella attempts to cling onto the dish with admirable tenacity, there’s no way a single morsel is getting left behind. These bites are paired well with refreshing cocktails, a fresh Como Fizz – gin, basil, lemon, sugar, cucumber – and a simple yet slick Godfather – whisky and amaretto.
Freshly made pasta deserves only the best companion, and at Como Garden it finds them in both Tagliatelle al Beef Ragu and Pappardelle ai Funghi. The former is slow-cooked until ripe with rich tomato, while the latter maintains the texture of the wild mushrooms, which are swimming in a creamy sauce. These aren’t conversation starters but conversation enders, serving up five minutes of pure silence.
The desserts that end the evening offer up the kind of combinations I’m convinced even the most pretentious diners are secretly hoping for. The tiramisu is a must-try benchmark of every Italian restaurant, and in this case the only downside is the pair of sparring spoons: the pudding may prove as divisive as it is divisible. Equally inviting, though, is the less traditional Como Ferrero Rocher. This elegant mimicry of the confectionary favourite hits all the key notes and then some: airy chocolate mousse meets with crunchy hazelnuts in a gleaming chocolate case. It’s lighter, bigger and ultimately better than the branded product.
Como Garden serves up perfectly portioned, happy plates that don’t aim to revolutionise Italian food but to remind us exactly why it works. Cheese and pasta; coffee and chocolate: these double acts are as solid as Morecombe and Wise or French and Saunders, and like the best comedy show, they’ll leave you with a smile on your face and a feeling that even in trying times, it’s sharing simple pleasures with friends that keep us going.
Photos: Azhul Mohamed
To book a table at Como Garden, 37-45 Kensington High Street London W8 5ED, call 020 7937 7287 or visit their website here.