‘Simple food done well.’ That’s how Max Rocha, the Dublin-born chef behind London’s busiest restaurant, describes the menu, which he tweaks each morning with the day’s deliveries and his cookbook collection spread out in front of him.
‘There’s always some kind of pasta because that’s my favourite thing to make,’ he says, sitting across from me at a table for two in his chef whites. The onglet with chips and peppercorn sauce is a staple, as is the pork and apricot terrine. ‘It’s nice when you go to a restaurant and your friend says, ‘You have to try this.’’
My recommendation: the sage and anchovy fritti. Rocha calls them both a blessing and a curse because they’re so popular he has to have someone making them all day. His Irish roots shine through in the Guinness bread, the ends of which get blitzed, roasted with sugar, and folded into ice cream. ‘That’s my mum’s influence,’ he says, smiling. ‘And, of course, all of this started with baking a loaf.’
Café Cecilia – and its much-loved team – is an extension of the Rocha family. The name belonged to Rocha’s paternal grandmother, his father helped with the interiors, sister Simone designed the aprons, and his mother consults on the food. ‘It’s a family-orientated business, and a taste of our home,’ says Rocha. ‘We’re only just getting going, but I think it’s got the potential to be quite special.’ As I button up my coat, ready to face the cold again, with a slice of raspberry and almond galette in hand, I notice a vase of pussywillow about to blossom.