“ Address: 5 Petersham Road / Richmond Upon Thames / TW10 6UH / Southwest London / England „
I am a big fan of proper individual restaurants rather than chain restaurants, and Richmond upon Thames suffers from the same problem as so many towns in England, with most of the independent restaurants on the high street gradually being replaced by the usual chain restaurants. In the main shopping areas there is a selection of good and not so good restaurants, but fortunately, a short walk from this area gives you access to several very good independent restaurants. San Marco is a good example of an Italian restaurant run by real Italians. I have eaten there many times over the last ten years or so, either at lunchtime, to get away from the hoards of shoppers or in the evening.
San Marco is at the bottom of Richmond Hill, near Richmond Bridge and next door to The Richmond Park Hotel on the Petersham Road. It is only a few hundred yards from the end of the main shopping area, but far enough to dissuade most shoppers from dropping in for lunch. It backs onto the river, but does not have access to the wonderful view, nor any outdoor dining space at the rear. The restaurant is quite small with probably just 20 tables, but has a very friendly and informal atmosphere. The decor is very simple with good-sized round tables with white tablecloths and plenty of space between them.
The cuisine is classic Italian, with the usual range of antipasti, primo, secondo and dolce courses. They do not however serve pizza. There are several classic Italian veal dishes served in red or white wine sauces or with mushrooms and a selection of chicken or steak and liver dishes with a range of optional vegetables and sautéed potatoes at extra cost. I have tried several of the main dishes and have never been disappointed. The calf's liver in red wine is very tender with an intense flavour the veal dishes subtler. The selection of starters is good with a choice of two soups, baked mushrooms and prawns to name just a few. My favourite is the antipasti misto, a selection of Italian cold meats, olives, salad, bread etc. that can be shared between two. The range of primo piatti is also very good, with a selection of pasta courses in various sources or risotto. The wine list has quite a good range of Italian and foreign wines from inexpensive Montepulciano to Barolos, and a selection of white wine and at least one rose.
The selection of food does not sound out of the ordinary, although extremely good quality, but it is atmosphere and service that makes this restaurant different to the usual chain restaurants on the high street with their highly trained and over worked staff. At San Marco it feels like you really are in a good restaurant in Italy. I am a regular visitor, so perhaps I get even better service, but I remember thinking that this place was special all those years ago when I first discovered it. The speed of service would probably upset an American, never feeling rushed, but certainly never being ignored with bread arriving at the table to keep you busy on arrival then a reasonable gap between each course to enjoy the atmosphere. A meal here can last a lot longer than you expect, even at lunchtime, and more wine seems to be consumed than may have been intended. Even when ordering just a glass of wine at lunchtime a new bottle is opened and I am given the option of tasting it before a very generous helping is served, which might even get topped up later. The staff is friendly and gives the impression that they actually enjoy working there.
The food is more expensive than the nearby chain restaurants, with a typical three-course meal with wine costing £70 or more. Main courses cost between about £12 and £18, but vegetables will cost extra, although are generous portions that can be shared. Pasta dishes are less expensive at £10 or less, which could make an excellent light luncheon on their own and antipasti range from about £5 to £10.
San Marco is a proper Italian restaurant in a great location serving good food and it is always an enjoyable experience eating there.