Wednesday, January 13, 2010


off the main throes of Kensington high street lies Kensington court – a mere slip of a pedestrianised passageway where arcadia resides. DC and I had found ourselves at high street Kensington having run an errand, and we were cold, hungry and indecisive. hot food was needed, and quick. there was a throng of chain restaurants that beckoned with their predictable food – strada, cote, prezzo. we made friendly banter with the cold waiter lurking outside arcadia as we perused their menu. the cold was playing with our ability to think – arcadia was empty except for a table of two, and the waiter seemed a little too keen to entice us in. but the menu promised rabbit ragu – I had visions of warmly comfortingly steaming, slow-cooked tomatoey goodness – we decided to take a chance.

the interior of arcadia was as far from chain restaurant formulaic uniformity as interiors go. gilded mirrors, an odd selection of watercolours and paintings of old-school italian families all clad in lace and black and eating sunday lunch. the wall was painted with mural of what looked like a tropical forest (sans toucan and other Amazonian features). italian opera piped softly through. the waiters descended on us in trios and patiently answered our inane questions about the menu.

the bread basket arrived – cold swirls of dough and off cuts of cold pizza. I spied a lonely anchovy on one of these off cuts. oh dear God. I thought, silently praying “Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, and please save us from whatever potential monstrosity the mains are likely to entail”. other than being stone cold, the bread also reminded me of those airplane rolls you get on the little tin trays that masquerade as a meal when you’re stuck in the coach class of a flying aluminum tube – suspiciously soft, dubiously sweet, with a little pat of criminally tasteless butter in tin foil. it’s the sort of bread you know you shouldn’t eat (along with all the other stuff on that tin tray), but you do anyway in some inexplicable response to the emotional trauma of being imprisoned in the aluminium tube, often made unbearable when you’re stuck in the middle seat between two fat ladies. I wanted to walk out and across the alleyway towards to neon blue lights of prezzo.

I was undoubtedly pleasantly surprised when I took my first bite of the rabbit ragu lasagnetta. blown away even. prayer does work. it was actually almost amazing. thin handmade sheets of egg pasta on the right side of al dente sandwiched layers of soft minced rabbit that had been slowly cooked in tomato. this was lasagna as how it should be – blousy yet comforting without any of the white stodginess of the school dinner versions. it brought me memories of the best home made lasagna I ever had when I once spent a summer in perugia – Nonna, the italian woman who made it told me how she used chicken wings to make the stock in which the sheets of pasta were cooked in and then layered with tender chicken pieces, fresh cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and slices of mozzarella. I wanted thirds.

I digress. DC’s seafood spaghetti cooked in a tin foil parcel was impeccable. the waiter made a great show of opening up the foil envelope that housed the seafood spaghetti. it was worth the show – the foil curtains were raised to reveal a happy abundance of seafood – lagoustines, prawns, baby octopus, calamari and mussels. all were perfectly cooked. no rubbery squid rings on this plate.

it was soon decreed once our mains had been tasted that this place would get our pudding order. we reckoned that if they did our pasta this well, puddings would possibly be a safe bet. we went for the chocolate and hazelnut tart with vanilla ice-cream. it was reassuringly hazelnutty tasted like gianduja.

arcadia isn’t a destination dining venue – in all honesty, and because I’m very lazy, although I would very happily eat at arcadia again, i probably wouldn’t schlep all the way to high street Kensington just to eat there. it’s the sort of place you’d like to have in your neighbourhood as your local italian – the food is honest and stands by itself without the embellishments of superfluous cream, butter and olive oil that chain Italians sometimes resort to in their quest for tastiness. just don’t eat the bread.


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