Well-executed dishes and a warm welcome make Italian trattoria Accigua a worthwhile visit, despite it sitting at the quieter end of Kensington High Street
Undeniably, family-run restaurants come with a feel-good factor. As you sit down to eat, you’ve already got that inner glow; the good citizen box checked for ‘supporting local’, all the while knowing your food is coming from the real experts. Sometimes, the reality doesn’t always mirror the ideal, which is when disappointment inevitably sinks in – how often have you read a review that starts ‘we so wanted to like it here, but….’ – so finding an excellent neighbourhood joint that lives up to the hype is equivalent to a mini-pump moment.
Accigua provides just that. Not that the Italian restaurant is short of fans already, finicky critics AA Gill and Fay Maschler among them. AA Gill even went as far to proclaim he had ‘the best carbonara I’ve tasted in England’.
We arrived on a Thursday lunchtime but the restaurant was very quiet, with only one table seeking an Italian lunch in addition to ours. Although the service is more akin to a trattoria, at first you could mistake Accigua for seeming more like a fine dining establishment. The interior is elegant and clean; white is the predominant colour, from the tablecloths to the decor – it feels swanky if bordering a little on the boring side if we’re being very picky. Greeted not just by a waitress, but shortly after by the owner’s father Graziano Arnulf, who manages the restaurant, we were instantly made to feel welcome, as we were given an in-depth walk through the food and wine choices on offer (and that’s not to mention a later table visit from the Chef Patron, Guglielmo Arnulfo).
The menu concentrates on Italian classics, based on dishes from the Ligurian region although, as Graziano stresses to us, these are modern interpretations. We were there to sample the autumn à la carte menu, which is divided into antipasti, primi piatti (pasta), secondi piatti (fish) and dolci. If you have less than an hour in total, a good value two-course menu (£14.90 pp) is available with many of the same dishes.
Struggling to decide what to order we settled on Pomodori Ripieni alla Portofino (Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed with Spelt and Pesto) and Polpo e Patate (Reconstructed Octopus with Potatoes) to start, while we tried not to pick (failing miserably) at the delicious homemade focaccia, bread sticks and bread that arrived at our table. Both of the starters were beautiful, delicate-looking plates with pretty foams and swirls that didn’t seem overly fussy, just thoughtfully presented. The tomatoes were fresh yet rich bites of intense flavour, thanks to the pine nut filling and accompanying pesto sauce. My Polpo e Patate featured a glorious marriage of contrasting textures between soft fluffy potato, its crispy fried exterior and soft, juicy octopus.
For mains, I upped the ante with the restaurant’s signature Gnocchi al Pesto Genovese di Rossi (Gnocchi with Rossi’s Pesto from Genova). The pesto sauce is very good indeed; the dish can seem a little oily but the gnocchi mops it all up and the pairing works perfectly. Monkfish was off the menu on the day so my guest ordered the special of seabass with thin, lightly fried potatoes layered over the top. This is a refreshing alternative to a classic pasta dish and even better, fish here is cooked beautifully.
I am a little surprised to hear people have previously grumbled that the portions are too small. We were too full to even contemplate desserts, and even struggled to finish our mains. The food is rich so it would seem unnecessary to needlessly pile bigger portions onto plates for the sake of saucer eyes in my opinion.
Not everything is perfect by any means, but it’s a place that piques your tastebuds, and will want you to return. As a whole, the service and atmosphere are just right; tell your friends and hopefully we can get the whole neighbourhood down next time.
343 Kensington High Street W8 6NW; 020 7603 3888; accigua.london