Tuscany is one of those wonderful places in the world that you find yourself dreaming about from time to time. The warm sun, the unforgettable landscape, the architecture. But for me, and many others, it’s the food that we recall the most. Sun drenched tomatoes, olive oil,  fresh basil and other vibrant herbs, a crisp, toasted bruschetta and… Chianti! as the winter is beginning to really set in in London at the moment, those Tuscan hills, and those long lunches and suppers in the sun seem quite far way.

I ride my push bike to work in the mornings and home again in the evenings… come what may weather wise. I love the journey through the streets of the City, past Buckingham Palace, and then through Chelsea back to Fulham. One site that I take in on my way home is an Italian restauarnt called Riccardos, in the heart of Chelsea. Each night, when I ride past, it’s lit sweetly with fairy lights around the garden that sprawls out on to the pavement in front of the restaurant. I see and hear full groups, families and couples enjoying each others company and, semmingly, the food. I claimed to my wife that we must try it out… so we did.

The restaurant is as charming on the inside as it looks from the outside. The place is simple but in that wonderful, local, family restauarant sort of way. Unlike other restaurants in the area, it doesn’t suffer from the pretension that seems to come with the highly priced real estate in the area. The friendly staff, lead by Paz, the maitredee, greet you with a smile and make you feel comfortable. Paz, we later learnt has been with the restaaurant for a number of years. That continuity in place is quite special I think, a welcome smile form someone you know and trust.

Reading the menu brought all those memories of Tuscany flooding back. To start, a delicious crudité platter of raw vegetables with an anchovy and garlic dip and warm olive vinaigrette. I also enjoyed a glass of organic Sicilian red, Montalto Nero D’Avola, with a grilled bruschetta with home-made courgette pesto and organic tomato. If you do enjoy eating organic produce you will be comforted by the number of dishes on Riccardos menu that include organic, fresh ingredients. Another message comes through from the menu, which was later verified by Riccardo himself when we were fortunate enough to meet him as he was dining there himself that evening is that the menu unashamedly includes a number of very healthy options. The Riccardo’s team have also prepared a thoughtfully put together vegan menu. The team haven’t simply pulled together a few additional recipies but it seems that Riccardo and his team have spent the time to work out how to incorporate vegan friendly ingredients into some of the most popular dishes. There are also a number of gluten free options. Eating Italian food at Riccardos can be a very healthy and nutritious experience and the restaurant openly encourages it’s customers to do so.

Riccardo’s tapas style menu also means that you can enjoy a number of the wonderful dishes on offer if you would like to. Two that I would recommend whole heartedly are the vegan  pizza topped with fresh wild mushrooms, capers and onions and the gluten-free choclate and almond cake that was simply delicious.

We left with the restaurant full to the brim with families, groups and couples, the people that I ride past. It’s a testament to what Riccardo, Paz and the rest of the team have achieved. A healthy, wholseome, popular italian restaurant that’s become a new favourite local in Chelsea.

words by Nick Reid

Riccardos Restaurant London www.jamesbedford.com

For more information or to book visit http://www.riccardos-italian-restaurant.co.uk