Cannizaro House: Wimbledon, London, England

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Towards the end of my recent trip back to the UK, I spent a couple of thoroughly enjoyable days in my old neighbourhood of Wimbledon Village. Rather than make the trek back to the city at night, I decided to take the opportunity to stay overnight at an iconic SW19 hotel where overseas friends used to hang out when visiting me. The affluent southwest London suburb, which is famous for many things including the Wimbledon grand slam grass tennis tournament, a huge common complete with "Wombles", and a variety of celebrity residents, is also home to a best-kept secret, Cannizaro House, which all the locals know about, and few visitors get to discover. The hotel is currently undergoing some change, which I will explore in my full hotel review, but for an elegant and romantic place to eat, whether for dinner, Sunday lunch or afternoon tea, it remains perennially popular with the loyal Wimbledon residents - and for good reason.

The location and decor:

Cannizaro House sits proudly on a 34-acre slice parkland called Cannizaro Park, adjacent to Wimbledon Common, which is just a 10-minute walk from the heart of cosmopolitan Wimbledon Village. It's a beautiful 19th century country house with a rich history dating back to 1819, having played host to Lord Tennyson, Oscar Wilde and even the last Maharajah of the Punjab, and it became a boutique hotel in the 1980s. There are two dining venues and a bar, the latter with big comfy chairs and a real log fire for the cooler months. The Orangerie is one dining venue, a large, conservatory-like structure at the back of the hotel overlooking the rolling green of Cannizaro Park, bathed in light and with doors opening out to the view. Artisan Mediterranean cuisine is served here, amidst a decor of soft chairs, striking black, yellow and green contemporary rugs, and live trees.

The main 60-seat Restaurant, however, has a more historic feel and is off to one side of the gorgeous foyer. It's also more formal in style, with a sense of retro grandeur, and has nice views of the garden. Its decor is more traditional, with warm biscuit coloured high-backed velvet upholstered chairs, rich carpet underfoot, elegant chandeliers twinkling above, whimsical patterned wallpaper, tall narrow windows letting in daylight, and crisp white linens. There are plenty of romantic tables for two, and you can have dinner every night.

The menu:

This is very much a modern British culinary offering with 3 AA Rosettes under its belt, and a focus on seasonal and organic produce. The menu isn't vast, but with each dish you get a sense of time and great care going into its creation. On offer are starters and mains which follow a food type, such as duck, chicken or salmon, rather than a style. I opted for the tuna, a seared yellow fin tuna with egg yolk, olive and Shetland black potato which was highly colourful to the eye and unusual on the palate.

Following that wasn't easy, but out of a choice which included pork, turkey, salmon and winter truffle, I opted for the white fish; the Bream dish was crispy skinned gilt head of bream fillet, complete with a coco bean ragu, purple kale, and sauce nantaise. Feeling in the need for greens, all I added was a Secrett's Farm mesclun salad, but with someone else to share my feast I could have opted for "Carroll's heritage" potatoes with minted butter, or Chantenay carrots with spiced honey. Sadly for me I was dining solo.

Although I rarely make dessert, on this occasion, I'd left some room for the Coconut sweet - a pina colada parfait with passion fruit, mango, coconut rum jelly and matcha tea. And for once I ate it all. All of this was washed down with a couple of glasses of house white, although there was an impressive wine list with varieties from across the globe, although heavy in Europeans as you'd expect.

The following morning I returned to the same table to tuck into a full English breakfast, which is included if you're a hotel guest. I don't know if it was the fresh air, or if I was making the most of my last meal in London before heading back to Sydney, but I was hungry all over again and easily downed it all. And an hour later as my cab pulled away to whisk me off to the station, I couldn't help but have mixed feelings; sad that I was already leaving, but happy that I had finally dined at a venue which has been on my list for many years.

Cannizaro House is located at West Side Common, Wimbledon Village, London SW19,

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There are four flights daily from Sydney, three flights a day from Melbourne, daily flights from Brisbane, four flights a week from Cairns and Adelaide, and ten flights from Perth. All flights provide connections over the Hong Kong hub to the airline’s worldwide network, including eight European destinations (from March 2015 Zurich will be added, taking the number to nine). From Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific offers 5 daily flights to London, offering a choice of flying in economy, premium economy, business class or first class.

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Joanna Hall