Restaurant Review: Strada, Hitchin
A flavour of the continent at lunch with Fabrizio Cruciani at Strada
Strada25-26 Sun Street Hitchin, SG5 1AH01462 457 746
BRIGHT-EYED and energetic Fabrizio Cruciani, head chef at Strada, Hitchin, gives me a warm greeting as we meet in the retro-styled restaurant, which he was hired to launch in December last year. Taking our seats I note the d�cor is muted and simple but with the stylish choice of colours it conveys a sophisticated air.
Since relocating from his home city of Rome Fabrizio now feels at home in Hitchin. 'Rome is such a chaotic city, especially with an extended family of more than 1,000,' he tells me with quiet pride, at the same time apologising for his poor English. Smiling, he seems reassured with my pre-school Italian.
For seven months Fabrizio commuted to Mayfair to work at the upmarket Italian restaurant, Cicconnes, helping to cook for the likes of customers such as Madonna and Tony Blair. However he soon came to the attention of Strada management with their eagle eye for good research. They approached him to launch the new Hitchin branch as head chef.
Our starters' arrival punctuates the conversation. Fabrizio has gone for the carpaccio di manzo, very rare thinly sliced beef served with rocket, lemon, Parmesan shavings and olive oil. I have the antipasto misto (mixed meats), a colourful plate of folded slices of Speck, a traditional northern Italian, smoked mountain ham, prosciutto crudo and salami from Naples, all served with mozzarella, tomatoes and olives. We need no prompting to tuck in. The mozzarella has a melting texture and a fresh, creamy flavour.
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For main course I have chosen the risotto ai frutti de mare, with squid, mussels, prawns and Palourde clams from the Mediterranean. Finished with chilli, garlic and extra virgin olive oil there is plenty of punch to accompany the creamy Arborio rice, which still has a little bite - just how I like it. In true Italian stallion style, Fabrizio chooses the costata di manzo; a 21 day aged, rib-eye steak on the bone, which at a hefty 14 ounces, and served with roast potatoes, green beans and garlic and herb butter is a challenge he relishes.
The menu dishes are from all over Italy but the theme running throughout them all is the use of authentic, quality products simply prepared in a rustic style. Between mouthfuls Fabrizio reminisces about his early years: 'From a very young age I was always in the kitchen in my grandfather's restaurant, watching the chefs. I then went to catering school in Rome for five years. Until recently education in Italy was different to England and you started college aged 13.'
His first job as chef de partie at the Holiday Inn Crown Plaza in Rome was something of a baptism of fire, cooking for frequent weddings as well as hotel guests. After two years, itchy feet transformed into the travel bug and a foray to the US: 'I worked in a Manhattan Italian restaurant for a time. New York people are very, very busy. However with no work permit I had to move on to Miami, where I stayed for three months in another traditional Italian restaurant. I didn't really like Miami, as it was very dangerous.'
We finish our lunch with a traditional Italian vanilla pannacotta, served with raspberries - a moreish conclusion in the extreme.