Restaurant review: La Cantina di Tenterden

La Cantina is a popular addition to Tenterden's high street

La Cantina is a popular addition to Tenterden's high street - Credit: Archant

Transport yourself back to that glorious summer holiday as you taste the sunshine and flavours of Italy in every lovingly prepared mouthful at La Cantina di Tenterden.

Food at La Cantina di Tenterden

Food at La Cantina di Tenterden - Credit: Archant

The phrase ‘cooked with love’ has become a tad clichéd, but just try the home-made pasta at La Cantina di Tenterden and I defy you not to taste the care and passion with which it has been prepared.

This tiny little restaurant arrived on Tenterden’s glorious high street last July and has steadily built up a loyal clientele of discerning diners who flock here for a true taste of Italy, which between them owner and wine buyer Stefania Mignemi and her head chef Maria Dellisanti deliver up with style and grace.

The former Grade II listed paint shop attracted the attention of the two friends when they visited Tenterden’s Christmas market a couple of Decembers ago and fell in love with the ‘Jewel of the Weald.’

Stefania, a businesswoman and busy mum, sold up her former restaurant in Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells and poured everything into La Cantina di Tenterden – named after the Italian for local wineshop, where you can not only buy excellent wines but also sample delicious food.

You can choose from the short menu inspired by seasonal products with a special focus on cured meats and cheeses and ultra-fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Or do as we did and place yourself in the hands of Maria and Stefania and wait for plate after plate of deliciousness to be served up (by Maria’s lovely daughter Martina) – accompanied by a perfectly paired glass of wine.

I can’t recommend this approach highly enough, especially as it introduced us both to wines that we had never come across before – hardly surprising, as Stefania personally selects each wine from small, independent, largely organic producers in her home country, many of whom have become firm, trusted friends over the years.

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Thus we were treated to a rich and intense golden Chardonnay (Toscana La Pietra 2013) with a simple but wonderful appetiser of sun-dried tomatoes and grilled aubergines served with warm wholemeal bread, which we drizzled with officially the Best Olive Oil Ever (Tamia is not cheap at just under £20, but worth every penny and the good news is that you can buy the oil as well as other produce and wine from La Cantina’s small in-house deli).

Stefania must have sensed that my favourite way to eat is lots of little plates so I was in heaven when next up was a trio of starters – artichokes simply shredded on a bed of tangy rocket; an octopus and potato salad with the satisfying crunch of celery and onion, and a sublime, piping hot Parmesan soufflé with a cherry tomato coulis.

Much as I loved the white wine, I simply fell in love with our next glass of plummy, cherry-ripe Negroamaro from Puglia – perfect with Maria’s next treat of spinach and buttery ravioli with a delicate sage sauce.

Maria Dellisanti, head chef

Maria Dellisanti, head chef - Credit: Archant

This was followed by her star turn of spaghetti with tiny clams, tomatoes and bottarga, an Italian delicacy new to me of salted, cured fish roe. The sea-fresh tang and the perfectly executed pasta were a heady combination that a powerful red best matched.

A cheeky mandarin sorbet with Prosecco and Vodka (try it – just amazing) prepared our tastebuds for a sweet onslaught of cappuccino semi-freddo and a divine chocolate mousse with a sprinkle of Amaretti biscuits. Impossible to choose which was tastiest, so we shared to the last lick.

Seating just 25-27, at surprisingly comfy acrylic chairs around square, hand-made tables each bearing the name of a different Italian wine (ours was Refosco), this is a stylishly rustic restaurant (beamed ceiling, wooden floor, a regularly changing display of local art on the white walls) that wears its heart on its sleeve and is a must for all lovers of true Italian cuisine.

And excellent news for you lucky locals, next on the horizon is a new outlet offering a takeaway service for Maria’s hand-made pizzas. Watch this space!

The essentials

Where: La Cantina di Tenterden, 25 High Street, Tenterden TN30 6BJ, 01580764045 or

What: Intimate Italian restaurant

When: 11.30am-10.30pm

How much: stinco di Maiale al vino bianco £15.75 (braised pork shank in with wine served with potatoes); ravioli di ricotta e spinaci, £16.95 (hand-made ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta in butter and sage sauce)

Meet the chef

Maria Dellisanti, head chef, La Cantina di Tenterden

Tell us a bit about you

I was born in Italy, in Gioiosa Marea on the Saracen coast, between the perfume of the citrus and the sea breeze. I lived in Messina most of my life, it’s where I met my husband Pippo. We have two lovely daughters Martina and Irene and a cocker spaniel called Grace.

I became a chef in 1991 and soon started specialising in banqueting and private parties. I also worked at a number of prestigious Sicilian restaurants.

A year ago I arrived in the UK and worked with Stefania, my business partner, in her previous restaurant in Tunbridge Wells. However, when we went to see the Christmas market in Tenterden last December we fell in love with this little town and decided to open our restaurant La Cantina here.

I miss my home town a lot, but I try to bring a bit of our lovely sun and wonderful perfumes through the food I prepare every day with love for my customers.

Your principal suppliers?

The meat is from E.C Wilkes & Sons in Cranbrook, the fish from Hartley Farm in Cranbrook and the vegetable come from a local farm in Benenden. Our wines as directly imported from Italy.

What’s your signature dish?

I love to do a swordfish pie, we called impanata di pesce spada, an ancient recipe with Arabian origins, a salted and sweet dish .made with a delicate pastry stuffed with swordfish and a mix of celery, capers, onions and olives in tomato sauce.

Top cookery tip?

Don’t be scared! Start your cooking experience with love and patience. You must buy good-quality raw materials – touch, smell, look at and feel it.

Who has influenced you most?

My mother and my grandmother, both are also chefs. I learnt from them the basics of the kitchen but more importantly in my opinion, our traditions and our special Italian happiness achieved through hospitality.

Breakfast this morning?

Nutella and bread, espresso and a glass of water

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