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A taste of la bella Italia in Henley
Published 26/08/14



TUCKED away behind a modest facade in Market Place, Rossetti Ristorante is a genuine slice of traditional Italian dining brought to Henley.

Run by Naples-born Umberto Fiorenza, the restaurant may not be the biggest, with one long room of tables and an outside terrace, but it has the feel of a rustic delicatessen which could just as easily be at home in the Neapolitan Riviera.

We picked the relatively early dining time of 6.30pm and arrived at the restaurant soon after it opened for evening service.

Upon entering, we were treated to a drink at the bar area, which was stocked with hundreds of bottles of Italian red wine and plentiful liqueurs, while Mr Fiorenza was fetched from his office above the dining floor.

He greeted us warmly and seated us at a large, light table towards the back of the restaurant.


After we had been served with more drinks, Mr Fiorenza, who buzzed around the restaurant throughout the evening tending to diners and any odd job, came over to give us his personalised service.

He served us both a glass of his house Chardonnay as well as bread and olives before recommending I start with the seafood salad. My guest went for fried calamari and zucchini.

When it arrived, the salad was rich with prawns, squid, octopus and mussels, all on a bed of lettuce, with a very simple dressing which allowed the flavour of the seafood to come through.

It came in a very healthy serving, enough to constitute a main course in another establishment, and was matched in quantity by the quality of flavours. My guest said his calamari was a little too salty for his taste but he enjoyed the variety of the zucchini mixed in with the calamari and said the batter was very good.

For main course I opted for another recommendation, this time from a fellow diner, and chose the pan-fried duck breast with a honey and white wine glaze.

The duck was cooked to perfection, tender and red on the inside and with a crispy skin, sliced into chunks and served with potato wedges and shavings. Both the duck and potatoes were delicious, though I thought the dish could have used a serving of vegetables or salad to complement the rich flavour of the duck.

My guest picked the quintessential Italian dish, a margherita pizza.

The stonebaked pizza was garnished with spinach leaves and my guest said it was among the best he had ever tasted.

For dessert, I plumped for the tiramisu, which came as a generously-sized slice with chocolate sauce and strawberries. The pastry and cream was light and sat well with the rich chocolate sauce and juicy fruit, making it my favourite course of the evening.

My guest, full from his pizza, skipped dessert and asked for a cup of tea instead. Not surprisingly for an Italian restaurant, Earl Grey was not available so he was served a cup of English breakfast tea.

I had an espresso, which seemed on the small side as it was barely more than a sip.

When we entered the restaurant, we were among the only customers. As we ate, the place filled up with diners and was almost full at the traditional peak time of 8pm.

Mr Fiorenza was a constant presence on the floor, even jumping on to a chair midway through our meal to fix a faulty lightbulb.

After our meal, he made a point of seeing us off in person and it was this personal touch which turned a good meal in a nice restaurant into a great dining experience.

The layout could do with some work — to reach the toilets I found I had to walk down the stairs and past the open doors of the kitchen, where Sardinian head chef Oscar Ortu plies his trade.

However, for a small property on a popular street in Henley, Mr Fiorenza has done well to create an Italian restaurant which has a unique feel and friendly atmosphere. I will be back.

PUBLISHED 26/08/14



 
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