Tuesday 20 January 2015

Restaurant review: Al Forno, Wimbledon

One of my earliest memories is flicking through my dad's collection of LPs and admiring the covers of the T-Rex and Queen albums. I grew up knowing he was a huge fan of both Marc Bolan and Freddie Mercury so when I saw that 20th Century Boy - the T-Rex musical - was coming to Wimbledon theatre I knew I had to take them.

The show is told partly from the perspective of Rolan Bolan, Marc's amusingly-named son, who is looking for answers about his father who died in a car crash when he was only a toddler. Then Marc himself takes centre stage and boy, does he hog the stage. The actor Warren Sollars had great stage presence as Marc, and according to my parents, was spot on in terms of his appearance, voice and mannerisms. Bolan only lived until he was 29 but packed a lot in to his short life- starting off as a bit of a hippy dreamer who married the pleasant and well-organised June, a secretary at his management company, and morphing into a glam rock god who fathered a son with American soul singer Gloria Jones. Bolan fell out with many of his friends- including legendary DJ John Peel- along the way, but even when he was revelling in the top hats and feather boas on stage, he was anxious and perhaps at times misunderstood off stage.
20th Century Boy, Get It On, Children of the Revolution, and I Love To Boogie (which I never realised was T-Rex) were the only songs I really knew, but my parents and boyfriend's mum were revelling in it (my mum bought a feather boa for the occasion). As far as musicals go, it wasn't one of the best I have seen - but that was partly down to it being a very different genre. There isn't much of what you would call typical West End show choreography; often T-Rex performed as a band, standing on a stage within the stage. It also wasn't the music of my era- but for my parents, it was a trip back in time, a chance to relive their youth and a magical recreation of one of their favourite bands combined with telling the story of the singer's life. I do recommend 20th Century Boy if you have a T-Rex fan in your life! 
I wanted to find a restaurant for dinner before the show that was near the theatre, not too expensive and would cater to my parents' more traditional tastes. I used Google Maps to browse restaurants in the adjacent streets, dismissing some as too expensive, others as I didn't think the menu would appeal. Al Forno seemed the best option by far - a broad Italian menu (more than just pizza and pasta) and very reasonably priced.
The restaurant is full of rustic charm and also full of knickknacks. Our table was next to the bar and on a slightly raised area - if I moved my chair back more than six inches I would have fallen almost a foot. Luckily we had no problems though the restaurant was quite noisy - but what can you expect on a Saturday night?

 Between us we had: insalata Italiana, a salad with rocket, spinach, mushrooms and avocado; I think my dad had the pollo al pepee funghi,  cubes of chicken breast with a mushroom and peppercorn sauce and served with cubed sauteed potatoes; lasagne; and seafood ravioli from the specials menu. The main courses were all around £8-£9; there are more expensive options like fish and lamb but these prices are typical of the menu and the portions are filling and substantial. I didn't think my seafood ravioli was as good as the version I've eaten at ASK, but it was more filling and better value. The food has a home-made rather than mass-produced feel and you're unlikely to go away hungry.

Despite the large portions we managed to make room for dessert. The tiramisu was pronounced excellent (albeit by someone who doesn't eat in Italian restaurants more than once in a blue moon), the profiteroles were a towering pile that proved too much for one person, and I finally had the chance to try cannoli, pastry tubes filled with a creamy cheesy filling (traditionally the filling contains ricotta or mascarpone). They were delicious and something I would definitely order again.
While the food at Al Forno wasn't amazing, it was tasty and filling, good value, service was quick and I'd definitely recommend it if you are visiting the theatre over the road.

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