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Review: Al Forno

The sun is streaming through the front windows of Putney restaurant Al Forno.

As I step through the door I am greeted by two European men: firstly, a warm hug from Peppe, chef and owner of the family-run restaurant. ‘Welcome. Welcome. Come in,’ he says. Two steps further and I’m greeted by Alain Pichon. ‘Bonjour’ is followed by a kiss on either cheek. I am very hard at work!

If you are among the one million viewers watching the new TV show Hair on BBC 3 you would recognise Alain as one of the judges. The show is proving to be a ratings winner with a format similar to the great British Bake Off but it is a contest between amateur hairdressers. It is presented by Steve Jones, and Alain and former royal hairdresser Denise McAdam are the judges - ‘evicting’ one contestant each episode.

It is Alain’s first foray into television but he is no stranger to the celebrity styling and fashion world. He is David Beckham’s hair stylist and has a long list of A-list clients including Victoria Beckham, and Sting and his wife Trudie. ‘I have worked as a stylist for photoshoots with Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino, and styled Prince William and Prince Harry for Mario’s cover shoot for American Vanity Fair about ten years ago,’ Alain says. He has styled more catwalk models than he can count, he is well-known at London and Paris fashion week shows and he is on a first name basis with Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet.

Peppe serves our starters and they look so good we decide to share both the Caponata Siciliana - a typical Sicilian vegetable stew with aubergine, green olives and capers - and a plate of succulent scallops that melt in our mouths, perfectly complemented by Falanghina Fontana delle Selve - a dry, fruity white from Campania. Peppe purchases his produce at the markets every day - you can taste the freshness.

Alain lives in Southfields with his Swedish wife of 20 years and their three children, who all speak French, Swedish and English. ‘I grew up in the French town of Cholet on the west coast and moved to Guildford 25 years ago as a young hairdresser who couldn’t speak English. Once I felt brave enough, I moved to London and worked my way up through the ranks of Toni & Guy and eventually became a teacher at the Toni & Guy Academy. After getting an agent, my career as a hair stylist in the fashion industry took off,’ Alain tells me.

Our mains arrive. Tagliotini porcini, tartofo e noci - freshly made egg pasta with porcini mushrooms, black truffle and walnut cream wrapped in speck ham - is cooked to perfection. The combination of the sauce and ham is delicious and this light pasta dish is ideal for lunch. Alain ordered his favourite Italian dish, linguine alle vongole – linguine with clams, cherry tomatoes, garlic and garnished with freshly chopped parsley.

‘What I love about this show is the creativity of the contestants. Their techniques are definitely more creative than traditional hairdressers as they don’t set boundaries.’ So what’s next for this jet-setting stylist to the stars? ‘I’m really enjoying the show so hopefully more TV,’ Alain says.

Al Forno is a byword for ‘good local family restaurant’ and as such was nominated for both Best Local and best Family Friendly Restaurant in the T&L Food Awards! Peppe knows most of his loyal local customers by name. And if you have ever been to Al Forno after midnight, you would know the waiters are also skilled salsa dancers!

349 Upper Richmond Road, Putney SW15 5 QJ
www.alfornoputney.com 020 8878 7522

Alain PichonAl Forno PutneyAl Forno Putney