More than a little fish in Kensington – Acciuga:
When Acciuga first opened, I was lucky enough to be invited along to try the menu of Ligurian specialities. And, I met the young Chef Patron Guglielmo Arnulfo and was intrigued. At only 24 he’s managed to develop fine skills in the kitchen despite two previous careers as a rugby player and lawyer. So, a few months ago I invited Guglielmo to be interviewed as one of the chefs in a print feature I was writing on three generations of Italian food in London. Once again we chatted and I was impressed by his passion and integrity. I met his business partner too, Edoardo Ferrera, an Italian chef who ran the one Michelin star ‘Don Carlos’ in Milan before moving to Genoa to open Vizzi et Virtu – the man Guglielmo blames for convincing him to abandon his legal training and move to a new career in the kitchen.
‘You must come in and try the new menu’ I was told. Well, who am I to refuse an invitation to lunch – especially when I’m in the company of someone with such passion for their chosen vocation. Luisa who I brought with me is Italian herself, and someone who had already told me how much she wanted to meet Guglielmo, but the bonus for me was that she could tell me more about the nature of what we were eating.
There’s something of a ‘food as art’ theme to Acciuga. The art on the wall at the moment is from two Italian artists, Alessandro Nocentini and Massimiliano Lo Russo, introduced in the menu by Guglielmo
‘This season I decided to have more fun, like on my menu, where you can find the contrast between classic and modernity, on the wall you will be able to admire the same. concept, and obviously if you like it you can take it home. As always we are here to make your dining experience unforgettable”
On to the menu itself. You can chose to enjoy the tasting menu of five courses for £70. Or, more realistically for lunch perhaps, pick from Meat, Fish and Vegetarian, with Antipasti (£10), Primi (£15) and Secondi (£20) in each selection all within the fixed price. And there are gluten free options on the menu too. Of course, commenting to Guglielmo that we’d like to try a mixture of his favourite dishes meant that we ended up with a veritable feast of small plates which for the most part were utterly delicious. And of course there were Ligurian olives to start (those small, sweet nutty ones in the first photo). Our off piste dining started with just a taster of the Pesto, hand made in liguria and imported because, as Guglielmo explained, the basil in the UK doesn’t have the same flavour. Luisa was thrilled to find it served with beans and potato and explained that the classic way to make Trofie with Pesto was to boil the pasta in water that has already been used to cook the potatoes and beans, then add back in the vegetables together with the pesto. So, our little spoon was a deconstructed (and pasta free) version of the classic – and very delicious it was too.
Our next plate contained a tiny pot of fresh home made tomato sauce, some Acciuga Impanate (tiny breaded fried anchovies) and Cappon Magro which is a steamed vegetable, prawn and fish ‘pie’, a stack of light and tasty flavours and textures to explore.
Next a risotto of eel. It was, perhaps, verging on the salty side though the rice was perfectly cooked and the sauce delicious. It’s also not the most photogenic of dishes, whether or not there are rose petals on top!
Personally I enjoyed the Brandad di Baccala. Luisa, I believe was a little disappointed to find the violet potatoes mixed into the brandad – with a rather ‘grey’ result. But I liked the flavour and since I was not particularly aware of the significance of the regional speciality of violet potatoes (until Luisa explained a little), it didn’t bother me. Though, given the rather stunning presentation of the antipasti it is fair to say that both these Primi seemed on a slightly different level. We did both enjoy the tiny tasting spots of the component vegetables throughout the meal.
Our final savoury dish of duck with orange and saffron mash was a pretty as a picture concoction too, although by now anything not a work of art on the plate seemed the exception.
Dessert for me of pears in wine was an unexpectedly refined take on a classic dish
Meanwhile Luisa indulged in the demi-sel chocolate flan which was perhaps a little closer to a fondant than what we’d call a flan here.
Now, having taken you step by step through the dishes, it’s perhaps worth a broader perspective. Some of this food was exceptional. One or two dishes were not exactly as expected for us. But, is that any different to any other form of art? I believe that much of taste is personal. What was consistent here was passion and integrity – a desire to present dishes that took the best of Ligurian food and presented it back to a consumer who might not understand it in a way that would challenge and inspire. Eating here is a serious business, one that is to be enjoyed and appreciated on many levels. Come in for a bowl of Trofie al Pesto and you shouldn’t be disappointed. Or, take the time to enjoy the whole show and indulge in the tasting menu.
343 Kensington High St
London W8 6NW