OUR region is blessed with some fine large Italian restaurants, whose reputation for quality and service goes before them.
The likes of Flying Pizza and Bibi’s have done great business for decades – and worked hard to maintain everything which built their fame in the first place.
Yet sometimes far more modest little bistros can deliver an experience every bit as good – as recent visits to Maranella’s in Adel and Culto in Meanwood have proved. After this visit to Guiseley, I wouldn’t hesitate to place Cena in precisely the same bracket.
Oxford Road is one of Guiseley’s major arteries, running steadily uphill from the station towards the shops and houses which have grown up on the north side of busy Otley Road. Cena occupies the small corner plot which has been home to a few different restaurants in the past; I hope this one is here to stay.
The experience is a positive one from the moment you step over the threshold. It’s a Saturday evening when we call in, and from the hectic activity in the open plan kitchen dead ahead and from the waiting staff hurrying between tables, it’s immediately clear that Cena is doing brisk and bustling business. It’s clearly popular, but thankfully we have taken the precaution to book; walk-ups would be running significant risk of being turned away.
Soon, the pace slackens sufficiently for a waitress to show us through to a table in the room on the left, where black beams hold up what was once evidently a factory roof. Old bare brick, chunky radiators and distressed floorboards play to this post-industrial theme. There are dark wooden panels and glass lampshades etched with the Cena name, while an arch of gnarled red brick flies over a narrow passageway leading to the bathrooms. Ornate bronze-framed mirrors add an effect of extra light and space.
There is constant ripple of staff in their smart black and white livery heading to and fro, edging gingerly and with practiced expertise through the narrow gaps between tables. Along with the gentle thrum of happy conversation, this all creates an intimate, relaxed ambience drawn straight from the backstreets of Rome or Florence or Venice, the kind of place in which some adventurous traveller would delight, yet a casual tourist would never find.
The arrival of Cena’s comprehensive menus, and a bottle of a rich fruity Ca’ Lunga Incantesimo (£16.95) – an extraordinarily good choice for a house red – enfolds us further into this happy atmosphere.
And our antipasti soon follow. Small soft balls of mozzarella, which have been drizzled in olive oil and scattered with fresh chopped basil, add an extra dimension to the time-honoured Italian combination of smoky parma ham and a fan of soft juicy melon (£6.95).
Rings of calamari, coated in the most delicate of batters, are served in a miniature frying pan alongside a crispy salad and a coarse homemade tartare sauce (£6.95). Sometimes a batter which is too thick, too dominant or too oily can detract from the lovely firm texture of the calamari but here it is thin and soft, and complements rather than dominates the lovely rings of squid.
These high standards are maintained by the main courses. The menu here offers everything that you would expect of a quality Italian restaurant, with a host of pizzas at around the £11 mark, a good list of risottos and pastas and a specials blackboard which sets out seafood choices, sea bass and swordfish.
From a list of carne which includes lamb shank, pork fillet and various steaks, my partner has gone for the Pollo Porcini (£12.95), a butterfly fillet of chicken which has been bathed in the most luxurious and fragrant sauce of white wine, cherry tomatoes, garlic and assorted mushrooms, which lend both taste and texture. The woody, nutty, earthy nature of the porcini mushrooms is a significant influence, but never over-dominant. A bowl of mixed vegetables – boiled potatoes, cauliflower, carrots and mange tout (£3.95) – proves an ideal accompaniment.
I head for the pasta, and am soon presented with a huge steaming mound of al dente spaghetti in a rich and creamy sauce of egg and parmesan, studded with little chunks of smoked bacon (£9.95). It’s a prosaic choice perhaps, but a dish which holds my interest to its last sticky strand.
We are persuaded to take a look at the dolce, and have soon talked ourselves into this final indulgence. A heavy dusting of cocoa powder tops a beautifully light creamy tiramisu, imaginatively presented in a coffee cup (£4.95). Two globes of a stinging lemon sorbet (£3.95) proves a perfect palate-cleansing finish.
We drain the last of the wine before our splendid evening is wrapped up with a couple of bitter coffees (£2.50).
The pace has slackened a little by now; for the first time a few tables are standing empty, yet the conversation and clink of glasses continues behind us as we head out to the night.
Address: 2a Oxford Road, Guiseley, LS20 9AT
Opening times: 5-10pm Tue-Sat, 4-8pm Sun. Closed Mon,
Telephone: 01943 878626