It’s a Saturday afternoon and my father and I are heading towards Winchmore Hill, following a tip-off from our long time Italian food suppliers, Salvino. We’re looking for 250 mini Sicilian Cassata to form part of my wedding cake. I’ve been to all the regular central London Italian bakeries, contacted wholesalers, considered making them myself but the thought of constructing 250 sticky cakes the night before my wedding leads me to pre wedding despair. La Rocca is my last hope.
We drive through Green Lanes, pass Wood Green and after another ten minutes or so reach Winchmore Hill broadway. I see La Rocca’s glass front and a stream of people heading in and leaving with content smiles. We enter, are instantly greeted by the busy owner, Salvatore, his Sicilian charm prevalent and beaming from behind a well stacked counter. My senses feast; there’s a large ice cream counter with authentic and loved flavours, and importantly less known Italian flavours such as Hazelnut, Honeydew Melon and Tiramisu. Wafts of good strong espresso and tomato sauce induce a need to feast.
Behind the vast counter there is Baba’ with cream and without, authentic sfogliatelle ricci which give their sweet ricotta and orange scent generously (these are the best sfogliatelle I have ever had outside Italy), pistachio and hazelnut cream filled profiteroles, pasticcini di mandorle, cannoli filled with fresh buffalo ricotta, humongous arancini, lasagne, and rustic pies filled with meat or spinach. That is just the start; there are many more sweet and savoury dishes calling out to us. But, I see no Cassata and my dream of a cake stand stacked mini Italian cakes and Turkish pistachio baklava fades away. My dad’s eyes flit from left to right and I know he’s already making plans to take a hoard away with us.
“Please bella, take a seat. And congratulations!” Salvatore is aware I’m here sussing out cakes for my wedding, but he looks genuinely pleased for me as his kindly face smiles. I notice a gold cornicello charm around his neck, a good luck charm typical of the South of Italy. Plate upon plate arrives and we eat perhaps the most deliciously authentic Italian food I have ever had in the UK, washed down by San Pellegrino limonata – my usual drink of choice for hot Italian days.
I hear velvety Sicilian and Calabrese accents amongst the chatter of customers. As my father converses with Salvatore in Italian about ricotta, London and life in general, a few of the flat-capped Italians stop speaking and eye us with suspicion. Salvatore invites the chef to sit with us, (also called Salvatore, Salvo for short), and we discuss the possibility of getting those mini Cassate in time for the wedding. And yes, it’s going to be possible and even better at a great price.
Eventually with the post lunchtime lull, my father is caught up in jovial banter with all of his fellow countrymen who perhaps flock to La Rocca for the social aspect as well as the incredible food. After all, there is a distinct lack of community centres for Italians; driving up Green Lanes you can see social centres for Turks, Greeks, Albanians and Cypriots where men pass the days playing backgammon and sipping tea.
While dad and his new friends chatter away like evening sparrows, I take a look around. Numerous children’s drawings and postcards hang off a wall, all wishing well to the team at La Rocca. Olive oil, wine and other Italian goodies are for sale. I too make a mental list of what I’m going to take away, but alas, by then the sfogliatelle are already sold out. We leave more than happy with beautifully packaged goodies for my mum and sister. Our mini cassate arrived well on time, each beautifully decorated and filled with luscious buffalo ricotta.
I’ve always loved the name Salvatore which incidentally translates as saviour – I’d really like to thank Salvatore and Salvo for their help with my dream wedding cake; they went down a treat and formed a significant part of the most special day of my life. Viva La Rocca! West London need La Rocca 2 – per favore!!
La Rocca, 751 Green Lanes Winchmore Hill London N21 3SA