When a Timeout review tells you, in a rather self-congratulatory tone, that a restaurant “has become immensely popular” since their article was published, you suspect you might be onto something good. Anima e Cuore, at the very end of Kentish Town Road, did sound very promising. With buzzwords like, “only 22 covers”, “low prices”, and “the best [Italian food] in the capital”, I was surprised this place had been so well kept under wraps. So when my companion suggested this place for a mid-week summer supper, I did wonder why hadn’t I discovered this place sooner?! And I certainly felt this way post-supper…
Anima e Cuore’s two owners, chefs Mustapha Mouflih and Alessandro Altoni, spent a decade honing their skills in some of London’s best restaurants. Between them, they’ve worked at restaurants including The Ledbury, L’Anima, Sketch and Le Gavroche. And it certainly shows. Anima e Cuore means heart and soul, and the owners have clearly thrown theirs into the restaurant. Whilst this place may be diminutive in size, it’s giant when it comes to quality. The staff are also heartily passionate about this place.
Whilst most reviews go on about how Anima e Cuore is situated on the “wrong ends” of Kentish Town Road, in an unsuspecting spot, my companion and I were lucky enough to nab a spot in their al fresco terrace. True, this tiny shopfront couldn’t be more basic inside: bare tables, bright lights and no music. The décor is virtually non-existent and the kitchen is minuscule. The main dining room, tucked away at the back, has no windows and just three pictures on the walls. But the outside courtyard was perfect for the warm Tuesday summer evening when my companion and I visited. We really felt like we were in Italy for the evening. Even the backdrop of the nearby train tracks became something of a welcome counterpoint to the evening.
The staff here are totally charming. Having brought over the menu on a mini blackboard, an Italian chap came over eager to explain the scrawls, including the (meaty) starters. Once we explained that we were just here for the mains, he fast-forwarded to explain the pasta, pointing out that the Truffle Taglioni (£16) was their signature dish, with the sweet amaretto Pumpkin Ravioli (£14) being a strong second option.
Craving a bowl of luxe pasta, I went for the truffle choice and it oozed everything I was craving: a comforting bowl of indulgence. The truffle flavour packed a punch – it’s amazing how just a sprinkling of these black shavings exude so much flavour. And the freshly made pasta – which I swapped to a fettucine since I prefer the thicker pastas – had just the right amount of buttery sauce – certainly not as dripping as River Café’s equivalent, but still a decent amount and a more al dente finish to their pasta fresca.
Also fantastic, this place is BYOB. In keeping with our tradition, my companion brought along a bottle of Coop’s finest prosseco which we sipped very easily this evening.
“Anima e Cuore” means heart and soul, and there’s heaps of it in this place. Everything from the Italian waiter, who so keenly explained each dish, as well as the pasta itself, to the gelato we eyed up on our departure, screamed of authentic Italian food. I write this review somewhat reluctantly: I hope this place stays true to its own roots and maintains its rather well-kept disguise. Sometimes, the best spot in this city are the hidden ones.
Anima e Cuore, 129 Kentish Town Road, London, NW1 8PB