A few weeks ago my family got together at Al Boccon di'vino in Richmond to celebrate my step-grandmother's 80th birthday. A cosy, traditionally-decorated Italian bistro, Al Boccon di'vino is well-known for its decadent multi-course Venetian feasts, and our 20-strong party spent the best part of an afternoon gorging on a never-ending stream of delicious Italian dishes.
We sat down to baskets of crusty Italian bread and plates of paper-thin Parma ham, and whet our appetites on miniature crostini smeared with pungent Parmesan spread while we waited for everyone to arrive. Once we were all seated, the courses began to appear: first up, a delicious minestrone soup; flavourful broth crammed with an assortment of colourful al dente vegetables.
Next came a delicate salad - a fresh, summery pairing of asparagus, melon, pomegranate seeds and sweet Sicilian olives - followed by a platter of mixed antipasti (aubergine parmiagana, potato fritters, braised fennel, and two types of quiche-like egg and vegetable tarts).
As we worked our way through the assortment of savoury treats the waitresses came round with slices of fried mozzarella (seared golden brown and oozing seductively onto our plates), before serving up a variety of tasty seafood dishes - king prawns in an flavourful tomato sauce; steamed razorclams; clams cooked with white wine and fresh herbs; and a beautiful scallop which - cooked in its shell and drenched in a rich garlic butter - was one of the highlights of my meal.
Already full to bursting, we moved on to the pasta courses: freshly made egg tagliatelle, served with a rich cream sauce and sprinkled with a liberal helping of salty Parmesan, followed by cheese-stuffed ravioli in a tomato passata. Both were fantastic.
Next - and with some fanfare - the waitresses brought out a huge haunch of lamb, accompanied with heaping platters of rosemary roasted potatoes. Most of us didn't have much room at this point, but my teenage brothers and cousins still got stuck in!
The meal finished on a lighter note, with fresh berries and creamy vanilla panna cotta, followed by coffees and dessert wine - a lovely close to a very memorable meal.
At only £60 each (including wine), Al Boccon di'vino represents incredibly good value given the quality of the food and the experience - you would barely get three courses at a middling restaurant for the same price in Central London - and is the perfect place for celebrations. I'm already trying to think of an excuse to go back!
Happy 80th Pat!