Ligurian Food in London – Acciuga
London is the place to be for young talent. According to 24 year old chef Guglielmo Arnulfo from Genoa, that’s very much the thinking behind opening Acciuga on Kensington High Street. I asked him where else he rated in the area and was somehow reassured that the restaurant he mentioned was Kitchen W8, a great favourite of mine.
Gugliemo told us that he’d started training as a rugby player but given up and moved in Law when he realised that to take his chosen sport any further he’d have to turn professional and train full time. And, he went on to explain his heart was always in cooking and that when he’d decided to become a chef he’d originally focused on molecular cuisine. But, his training with some of the top chefs in Italy had pulled him back to develop dishes that really focused on fine ingredients and traditional dishes from Liguria.
Gugliemo’s passion for food was evident througout our lunch. We started with a tiny amuse-bouche of smoked duck and rocket pesto to accompany a glass of lightly floral N.V Brut Metodo Classico White Flower, Luigi Elio, Selezione Brjnda. The wine is an unusual find from Italy, produced using traditional champagne techniques with the secondary fermentation in bottles, rather than in vats used for prosecco and asti. The end result is a finer and more complex wine and was a good indication of the attention to detail at Acciuga. The bread too was perfectly presented, delicate breadsticks and soft round rolls set out on an elegant slate plate.
To start we ordered Crostini di Mare, sea food crostini, small toasts which came with salmon roe and a trio of smoked swordfish, salmon and scallops. My personal favourite was the lightly smoked swordfish, but we were sharing so I didn’t get to taste the salmon roe or scallops.
And, stuffed courgette flowers – which arrived hot and fragrant, oozing with soft egg enriched cheese flavoured with courgette pollen. Very delicious, that one could get to be addictive.
Our wines were matched for us throughout the meal and with the starters we enjoyed Roero Arneis Le Faville, Selezione Brjnda, a lightly fruity white which worked particularly well with the courgette flowers.
For Primi, Trofie al pesto, a simple Ligurian dish made with trofie pasta, green beans, potatoes and pesto that is brought over from Genoa. I’d half expected the pesto to be made in house, it tasted incredibly fresh and vibrant but Gugliemo told us that the quality of basil available in this country wasn’t good enough and he chose to import products where he felt the quality would suffer by using local ingredients. The wine chosen for us was a rather more intense Cinque Terre DOC from the eponymous part of Liguria, and typical of the region with 60% Bosco, 25% albarola and 15% Vermentino grapes.
Ravioli di pesce bianco, white fish ravioli, was delicate and beautifully cooked with the pasta having just the right ‘bite’. Each mouthful of pasta was generously filled with a mixture of white fish complemented with a light, piquant sauce.
On the table to the left of me a couple were sampling wines. They turned out to be from the Cecchi wine producers in Tuscany and kindly offered to match our secondi courses with some of their wines. The first wine we tried was Valle delle Rose, Morellino di Scansano, DOCG a warm 95% Sangiovese wine. I’d have been perfectly happy drinking this on a sunny Tuscan evening looking out over the vineyard.
I was dining with the pescatorian Hedonist and sharing dishes, so rather than a meat dish we chose Seppe in Zimino – Tuscan Cuttlefish Stew as a main, despite a little hesitation on my part. It was a fine take on what I suspect is a very traditional dish with the cuttlefish laced with peppery spinach and borage to create a well-balanced stew.
Our second wine from Cecchi was Castello Montauto 2012 Vernaccia San Gimigniano, a white from San Gimigniano, creamy with herbal notes that worked very well with both dishes for me, although I suspect it was intended to pair with the octopus.
Octopus with potatoes, polpo e patate, lacked the wow factor for me, although the octopus was beautifully cooked and meltingly tender I’d anticipated something different and found the potato croquettes just a little underwhelming as an accompaniment.
Now, by this stage I’d probably have stopped. But instead, we finished the meal with a Salted Chocolate tart and a bellini sorbet. I was happy to enjoy most of the light bellini sorbet, and just had a taste of the rich, chocolate dessert which I might just have managed if I’d skipped the Primi!
I wish Guglielmo Arnulfo every success with his new venture, it’s a remarkable achievement for a debut restaurant. Accuiga is charming, with great food and wine at a reasonable price, in an area where there’s a limited choice of good places to eat. The main restaurant is elegantly furnished and very comfortable. Downstairs there’s a private dining room where Guglielmo is planning some special events – so well worth keeping an eye on.
343 Kensington High St
London W8 6NW