NOTE: Since this review was published, Anima e Cuore has become immensely popular. If you are thinking of going for dinner, especially at weekends, booking well in advance is essential. The Time Out Eating and Drinking Editors
From the outside, Anima e Cuore appears to be a gelateria and café. But the tiny restaurant at the back (22 covers only) serves – at very low prices – Italian food that can stand comparison with the best in the capital.
This stretch of Kentish Town Road has had an influx of high-quality eating and drinking places, but it is still not a place where you’d expect to find cooking of this quality. And the restaurant itself looks unimpressive, with essentially non-existent decor and an amateurishly presented menu. But some extraordinary food makes you forget everything else.
Daily specials of ravioli are a key feature here, and we ordered both. One filled the silky pasta with baccalà (salt cod) and accompanied it with a perfect rendition of the Venetian classic ‘sarde in saor’, fried sardines in a vinegar-based marinade. In another, the filling was three cheeses and the sauce a light but flavourful duck ragù. These were as good as any pasta dishes I’ve tasted. Anywhere.
There is a fish and a meat special every day. When we visited the meat was shredded ox cheek, cooked sous vide (sealed in a plastic pouch and poached in a water bath for 48 hours), on a bed of creamy, cheesy white polenta. This was one of those dishes that make you dread the moment when the plate is empty.
Save room for dessert. The own-made ice creams and sorbets are of exceptional quality; try the chocolate or banana sorbet and the hazelnut, vanilla or pistachio ice cream. Baked goods are equally distinguished, especially a chocolate tart of thrilling intensity. Each dessert is served with a flavour-complementary ice cream.
Anima e Cuore is BYOB – and there’s a good Oddbins five minutes up the road. For the food, three of us spent £69 before service. Yes, £69 for 3 courses. You could spend that at a very ordinary neighbourhood trattoria.
Three caveats must be noted. One: the numerous daily specials have to be laboriously explained and are hard to remember; the restaurant needs a blackboard. Two: I have no experience of eating here when it’s rammed (locals already know how good it is). Three: don’t expect mega-comfort or ambiance; it’s all about the food here.
Between them, proprietors Mustapha Mouflih and Alessandro Altoni have worked at restaurants including The Ledbury, L’Anima, Sketch and Le Gavroche. It shows. Anima e Cuore means heart and soul, and the owners have clearly thrown theirs into the restaurant. Ignore the setting. Anima e Cuore may be diminutive in size, but it’s a giant when it comes to quality.