You might question the sanity of a 24-year-old who turns his back on a promising career as a lawyer and professional rugby player in his native Italy and moves to Kensington to become a chef – but once you taste his food you start to understand the logic behind such a dramatic life changing move.
The young chef in question is Guglielmo Arnulfo, who is the driving force behind Acciuga (Italian for anchovy) which opened its doors a few weeks ago in Kensington High Street. He has only been cooking for three years so is something of a baby to the game but this chef is determined to woo customers to the restaurant with his traditional style of Italian cooking from the regions of Liguria (his homeland), Piedmont and Tuscany.
The entrance to Acciuga,which is at the Olympia end of Kensington High Street, is fairly unassuming but once inside there is a warm feel to the long and narrow restaurant. The tables are inviting with their crisp white tablecloths and napkins and there are comfortable banquettes with scattered cushions at the rear of the dining area. The design is clean and concise and the neutral colour scheme is relaxing, while there are little touches of Italywith panelled walls in the style of the Florence Genoa and Turin XIX century buildings.
We felt hungry just studying the menu, which is sensibly compact yet tantalising. It shows a chef interested in producing top class authentic dishes with stuffed courgette flowers, veal with tuna sauce (vitel tone), octopus, cuttlefish, pasta pesto and lasagne there to whet your appetite. We also nibbled on sensational focacca which is wonderfully light and airy - one of several nice little extra touches, including delicious petit fours, that enhances the dining experience.
I settled on a starter of baked and fried anchovies which arrived in an anchovy tin opened to reveal a delicious peppery tomato sauce which went lovingly with the wonderfully fresh tasting fish, of which there were plenty on the plate.
Fiona's selection of cured meats was everything and more than she hoped for, oozing flavour and quality. They included classic prosciutto di parma and salama toscano along with a Ligurion stuffed breast of veal (cime alla genovese) which includes pistachio and prized Tuscan speciality lardo di colonnata (a white meat of cured pig's back fat with rosemary and herbs) which is a revelation – I was only offered a mere morsel to try it was that good.
All the antipasti dishes are £10 and the portions generous. We enjoyed these with a glass of sparkling rose from the Piedmont region, an excellent choice by the passionate and knowledgeable manager Luigi, who clearly loves his work.
With my heart set on the lasagne All'albese (£14) I could barely wait for the dish (a classic from Piedmont and not baked) to arrive and when it did I was not disappointed. Each mouthful was divine, the lasagne perfect, as the ingredients including white sausage, chicken livers, carrots and courgette made for a perfectly seasoned rich, meaty lovingly created plate of food – it was close to perfection.
Fiona's veal tagliate with asparagus and grana cheese (£18) was a good plate of food with the succulent tender meat from the Piedmont region of Italy perfectly cooked medium rare. The vegetables added crunch and bite and the texture and flavour of the cheese were a tasty dimension to a pleasing dish.
Deserts turned out to be something of a lottery as they get lost in translation with the young waiter. When they arrived they were not too far from what we expected but didn't leave us excited like the previous courses. My Cappuccino semifrozen was almost exactly what it said on the tin but too much on the 'frozen' side for my liking while Fiona's peach and champagne sorbetto (which included melon) was refreshing and silky but no show stopper. Both were a bit pricey at £8, perhaps we just made the wrong choices.
It's early days for Accuiga and there are still some final touches needed but the food is truly authentic and great for lovers of true regional Italian cooking – and you get the feeling there is still plenty to come from talented young chef Guglielmo Arnulfo who may not have been so crazy to have made such a dramatic life changing switch to the world of food.