Spaghetti House, Kensington High Street
Spaghetti House is conveniently situated almost directly opposite the entrance to Kensington Gardens (thus making it a perfect lunch stop after a morning wandering the parks). Unmistakable, its exterior sports a traditional “Italian” look; honestly crying its wares at first glance. The interior is rustic and cosy, with walls red in either paint or bare brick, wooden tables and chairs, and some banquette seating in maroon colours that complements the wood and brick. A proliferation of large mirrors bounces light from the front windows around the room; whilst black and white photographs of food, cars and suchlike, and greyscale pictures of compasses lend a modern but tasteful air. The kitchen area is delineated in a light grey (with a hint of pink in the colour tone, which removes any trace of coldness), and is match-boarded in chunky wooden panels; while large items of furniture (such as sideboards) also bear this design and shade. There is a rather elegant and ornate door surround that struck me as really quite beautiful, and although metal pendant downlighters and anglepoise lamps lend a slightly ‘industrial’ air, these nevertheless tie in with the rustic interior and do not jar. The sadly ubiquitous pop music was not too loud, so not as offensive as it could have been – and towards the end of the meal it changed to more atmospheric and acceptable Edith Piaf – which I very much could have done with from the beginning!
We were seated on a banquette that was deeply comfortable and also nicely spaced from the other tables, thus allowing a decent measure of privacy. The service was friendly and very prompt (perhaps a little too much so – a waiter tried to take our orders before we had even opened up the menus); and we had barely taken our seats before we were brought welcome glasses of prosecco – this particular one being a very lemony-tasting, fresh, zingy wine. We were also presented at the same time with broad beans fried with salt and paprika which mysteriously disappeared while I was busy trying my prosecco (I knew I shouldn’t have let them place the dish anywhere within my husband’s reach…). The staff were dressed informally yet not scruffily (as befitted this unceremonious yet nevertheless professional type of restaurant), and there always seemed to be several waiters in attendance – although I fully accept that this may have been due to the presence of a journalist in their midst.
The wine list, brought next, offered a good range of Italian whites and reds – from a reasonable £18 up to £31, a couple of roses, a prosecco, cava and (interestingly) sparkling red, as well as a few rather fascinating-sounding Italian beers, digestivs and aperitivi. The menu included a two course set menu; starters seemed perhaps just slightly uninspired, but there was a far better range of main courses: pastas; pizzas; meat dishes including burgers, saltimbocca and sirloin steak; roast salmon; and a few sides and salads as well. Everything on the menu was very reasonably priced (£7.95 to £18.95; the latter, most expensive thing on the menu, being the steak). Most, however, hovered around the £10-£13 mark – it crossed my mind, even before trying and thus being aware of the quality of the dishes on offer, that this was good value.
Italian wines being something of a weak spot in my armoury of wine familiarity and knowledge, I asked for a recommendation and, after some discussion, decided to essay the Peppoli Chianti Classico 2010. At first taste this appeared rather thin and slightly acidic but as it breathed in the glass during the meal, it developed a wonderfully rich and complex flavour (alas, the poor beverage was crying out meal-long to be decanted). It glowed with a ruby red colour, whilst its nose was of red berry fruits and brambles, with a hint of liquorice. The taste was dark, with coffee, chocolate and tamarind. Although it remained a little too much on the thin and light side for me, with such depth of flavour it would be an absolutely superlative wine were it a little more full-bodied.
Food arrived at a good pace – the starters after not too much of wait and the main courses after a fully respectable pause. We were just a little disappointed by our starters: in the Caprese salad the mozzarella was generally fine, albeit not the most sublime example of its kind that I had encountered, lacking in that creamy, light fluffiness that the finest mozzarellas boast; and the tomatoes were rather flavourless (admittedly it was not the tomato season). Mr Marshall-Luck had opted for bocconcini di pollo – chicken wrapped in breadcrumbs and parmesan and fried. This smelt absolutely exquisite but the taste was slightly bland in comparison to its tantalising odour. It was served with pleasantly, but not overpoweringly, spicy arrabiata sauce, which complemented the chicken well. The bread (arriving just shortly before the starters) was good – a dark-tasting, fresh and chewy sourdough, as well as crispy and moreish Sardinian music bread. Extra virgin olive oil was already present on the table (good) and a plate of fine balsamic vinegar was presented for dipping alongside the breads.
No complaints at all regarding our main courses – which were both excellent. My scaloppa milanese was, perhaps, not as thin as that to which I am accustomed – but was absolutely none the worse for that. The meat itself was flavoursome; the breadcrumbs pleasantly crispy and salty. Although the accompanying French fries were perhaps slightly non-descript, the broccoli all’aglio was good, with the broccoli itself perfectly done and in a beautifully buttery sauce, although the chilli was too overpowering for my (perhaps slightly delicate) taste-buds to cope with!
My husband’s pollo con funghi was also very good: the rich sauce complementing well the mildness of the chicken; the asparagus done well – not overcooked; and the resultant combination of flavours worked very well. The accompanying potatoes were piping hot (to his initial chagrin!) but again, were not overcooked, and the rosemary lent a strong enough presence without becoming overbearing.
Dessert also impressed – the profiteroles were beautifully light and rich without in any sense being cloying, and their chocolate sauce had great depth in its flavour and was sufficiently complex (certainly not at all too sweet). My tiramisu was served in a cup (which I found rather a nice touch – a little different), and the crunchy resistance of the amaretti biscuits which graced the top of the dessert provided a very good textural contrast to the creaminess of the tiramisu itself (as the mascarpone element was wonderfully full, thick and rich). The coffee flavour in the sponge was very intense (slightly too much so for me), and I slightly missed an alcoholic hit of brandy or amaretto – yet, I suppose, the Spaghetti House is a family restaurant and limits must be set! As a whole, the dessert worked very well indeed.
The staff seemed charmingly reluctant to let us leave without providing more examples of the culinary finesse of the kitchens and bar and so I allowed myself (although I can’t say I put up too much resistance) to be persuaded into finishing with a limoncello, with its cloying, sweet foretaste and sharp, physically pleasing bite of an aftertaste. This bestowed me with the perfect conclusion to what had been a superb meal overall – with excellent food and drink; a snug atmosphere; aesthetically pleasing surroundings and relaxed ambience, and top-quality, friendly service.
Perhaps nothing is better testament to how welcome, comfortable and well-looked after we felt than the realisation, as we all-too-reluctantly roused ourselves from the soft seats to depart, that we had been the first to arrive and, over three hours later, were the last to leave.
EM MARSHALL-LUCK is the QR‘s restaurant critic