Monday, 02 July 2012

Restaurant review: Antico

Is this the new Italian stallion of eateries?

Written by Fiona Hicks

When I venture outside my kitchen to eat, I’m pretty much game for any type of fare. I love an aromatic curry as much as a filet mignon or meticulously constructed sushi roll. The type of cuisine I go for least is Italian; the fact that pizza and pasta is so readily available means that, bizarrely, I’m not interested.

And yet this week I had an epiphany. In fact I have to hold my hands up and say that I have been underestimating Italian food my entire life. The reason? One word: Antico.

antico interior

This gem of an eatery is on London’s up-and-coming Bermondsey Street. It is a little out of the way of the central foodie haven, and yet it is worth the taxi fare (or walk, depending how virtuous you’re feeling). Step inside to the artfully appointed interior – a wonderful marriage of modern tables, rustic brick walls and delicate-looking lamps – and the heady smell of simmering herbs hits you. We went mid-week and the place was rammed.

Our smiling waitress Claire immediately brought us a board of Nocarella olives (delightfully fresh and salty) and baked focaccia (even more delightfully fresh and salty) as we perused the menu. It is an unfussy sheet of A4 paper, which I find is always a good sign: sparse description usually means the food can speak for itself.

And speak for itself it did. In fact, it practically sung. To start we opted for the halibut fritti. The fish was flakey yet meaty in texture and the batter, although a little heavier than expected, was nice and crisp. The fritti were accompanied by a fragrant aioli with satisfyingly chewy whole capers. We also tried the burrata – a dish which is a testament to the power of quality ingredients. A mound of the smoothest, most decadent mozzarella and cream served on a simple rocket salad, it was achingly close to perfection.


One of the best things about Antico’s sophisticated menu is that it does not feature a single pizza. Such a vitiated dish has no place on this authentic Italian menu. It does, however, feature pasta, all of which is made fresh on the premises. Needless to say, this is several thousand notches about your everyday fusilli.

Our waitress (still smiling) recommended that we try the lamb and mint ragu, as well as the tuna steak served with a medley of summer vegetables. The tuna was tender, if a little cooked through, but paled in comparison to the real star of the show: the pappardelle.

The pasta was exceptional. Exceptional. Short of shacking up with an eighth-generation pasta maker in the heart of the Tiber Valley, I think one would struggle to find better anywhere. Perfectly al dente with an almost nutty flavour, it was delicious enough to be eaten alone. As it was it also served as the vehicle for the rich tomato and lamb ragu, which was uncomplicated but by no means basic. It was, as we were quickly realising, a plate which epitomised Antico’s style: a simple dish perfectly executed.


Giddy with this realisation, we practically shouted our pudding orders despite our full stomachs. The Tiramisu was layer upon layer of excellence while the crema di mascarpone with summer berries was unprententious, and would be dangerously easy to recreate at home. It was the wine pairings really kicked the dessert experience up a notch, taking it from sweet satisfaction to sugary ectasy. We had been recommended pairings throughout our meal: the full-bodied white (2011 Fiano d'Avellino DOCG) had helped our starters slip down while the smokey red (2010 Morellino di Scansano DOCG) had highlighted the richness of the ragu. The NV Donato, intended to complement the Tiramisu, was a revelation. Smooth and sweet without being sickly, it brought out the coffee and agreeably boozy notes of the classic pudding, leaving a raisin-y finish which left us entirely replete.

I have only one complaint about Antico: it has ruined all imitations for me, for life. I was already indifferent, and now I could never wander hapless in to a one of the chain pizza-and-pasta joints which litter Britain’s high streets.

In fact, the first thing I did when I returned home was check flights to Italy. Followed by the taxi fare for a car back to Antico.

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