Friday, 24 May 2013

arancina, notting hill - review

It’s certainly no challenge finding somewhere in London that sells a pizza for under £8. What is a challenge however, is finding a pizza that comes at least somewhere close to the authenticity and unmistakable excellence of pizzas from Italy, and specifically Naples.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Naples, round about this time last year. I ate my way through the Amalfi coast, sampling lip-puckering lemons as big as melons from Sorrento; sucking on sweet and garlicky clams in my spaghetti vongole by the sea in Positano; drinking an espresso above the clouds at the top of Mount Vesuvius. If it’s a part of the world you haven’t yet ventured to, I strongly recommend paying it a visit for some of the best Italian food you’ll ever get your chops around. The pierce de resistance though, the plate that somehow managed to exceed the other already exceptional dishes from that trip by miles, the food that rendered Matt and I to stare at each other wide eyed in silence at first bite, dazzled and slightly confused by just how good it tasted, was the pizza we had in the city of Naples itself. A shack of an establishment fronted by a perpetual queue at every minute of every trading hour, it had simply two items on the menu – marinara and margherita, of which we ordered the latter. A plate of just four components – thin dough, tomato sauce, mozzarella and a few leaves of basil. But four components so fresh, the sauce so flavoursome with garlic and oregano, the dough so thin and crisp from the treatment it received in the wood fire oven, it was perfection in simplicity at its best. And if you want to see what the most incredible pizza in the world looks like, here it is.

pizza in Naples - other worldly

Once you’ve tasted a pizza from Naples, you will spend the rest of your life desperately trying to seek out the same experience somewhere closer to home. That, or you’ll give in to the calls of the divinely intervened dough, up sticks and move there. I bet people have done it before. Arancina has two establishments in Notting Hill and whilst it doesn’t make Naeopolitan pizzas, it serves up Sicilian pizzas; if there’s going to be anywhere in the region of Italy that has the balls to dare rival the food from Naples, Sicily is probably it. And low and behold, the pizza and the atmosphere in Arancina certainly made a decent stab at providing the next best experience to being there.

On entering, my companion Aarti and I were presented with smiling female staff and a pizza counter housing some ready made slices for those who wish to take away, along with a range of salads. We ascended up the stairs to the main seating area – a small room overlooking the main street with a few rustic wooden tables and two ladies already seated at one of them. Once we made ourselves comfortable, we soon realised the two customers already present along with the waitresses were all speaking Italian. And then another two diners entered, also conversing in Italian. As I’ve said many times before, if you find natives in a restaurant, you know  there’s a good chance it’s going to be good.

If you want to order a pizza authentic to Italy, a margherita or a marinara is the only way to go. Peppers, onions, meats, sweet corn and heaven forbid pineapple (whoever came up with that as a pizza topping should be strung and quartered) are all additions to help satiate the American palette – you certainly won’t find an Italian eating pizza with fruit on. A marinara is a base topped with just a tomato sauce and oregano – no cheese. A margherita is a marinara but with the addition of mozzarella and basil. True to the Italians, Aarti and I ordered the margherita and decided to share it so we could sample some other delights on the menu whilst still keeping within the £8 per head budget. Should you wish to just order the margherita however, you would still have £1 change (£6.95).

For a pre-pizza whetting of the appetites we ordered a portion of arancine – deep fried saffron risotto balls encasing a filling of spinach and ricotta (£2.60). I was expecting a few to be delivered, but it was in fact a single large ball. We cut it in half and happily devoured – the ricotta provided a pleasant acidic tang, the filling well seasoned and the casing crisp and light. The pizza was rectangular (14” x 8”) and presented on a wooden board. The base was wonderfully thin, and the sauce was top draw with lots of garlic and oregano as it should be. There was a little too much cheese for our liking – another trait of an authentic margherita is a small amount of cheese – and it was in fact the bits of dough with no cheese present that were the tastiest, allowing the flavours from the sauce to fully shine. Perhaps a marinara would be the way to go next time. To accompany our pizza, we had a salad of roasted vegetables with chopped lettuce, sliced black olives and tomatoes. It was dressed with a tasty vinaigrette and seasoned with more dried oregano.

The search for the pizza I had in Naples somewhere in London still continues. Perhaps I’ll search forever – it may be it just can't be replicated outside of Italy and of course, the country itself in which it is eaten is a huge part of the experience. But in the meantime, Arancina certainly isn’t a bad place to begin such a search. Grab your Italian phrase-book, pay a visit and pretend you're there.

The bill

Between two:

arancine £2.60
margherita £6.95
roast vegetable salad £5.30
Total £14.85

Alfiyet olsun.

Arancina on Urbanspoon


  1. When in Italy, one activity that should feature at the top of anybody’s agenda is to sample as many delightful culinary creations as one’s time and budget allows for.
    Italy displays a montage of dishes made up of regional specialities; go to the Alpines and you will meet la Cucina Bianca which is composed of ingredients freshly cultivated before dawn on the very day that it is served to you. A variety of cheeses, freshly churned butter, gnocchi made from just-ground chestnut flour and freshly picked rocket are just a few items that you should expect.
    Descend to the South and you will be greeted with a cuisine that is rich in sun-ripened tomatoes (a flavour that is far from that of the hothouse tomatoes we are so used to in the UK), fruit & vegetables and legumes that aren’t dowsed in precarious chemicals but grown naturally on the picturesque hillsides, groves and even on the average street.
    Regardless of region, one dish that will definitely feature on all Italian menus, adapted to accommodate the offerings of the local cuisine is The Pizza.
    Just like Leyla, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy a margherita pizza in the heart of I Quartieri Spagnoli in Napoli itself; my reaction was much the same.
    In fact, the taste of the wood-fire oven, the fresh oregano, the sun-ripened tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella is etched in my memory and has left me on a mission to find anything that is remotely similar in London. At last, mission accomplished.
    Although Arancina doesn’t boast the “perpetual queues” that are found outside Neopolitan pizzerias, the gradual influx of diners over the course of our meal, emphasise that this eatery is worth a try. Along with the quaint character, the Italian diners and amicable Italian staff add authenticity to the experience.
    As for the pizza, (slightly heavy on the mozzarella, perhaps that is just the Sicilian way) the crispy, wood-fire base and the light, fresh and simple garlic and oregano sauce emulate the flavours of Napoli that still remain so vivid in my mind. Arancina is a great place to sample the flavours of Southern Italy without paying over the odds; more taste, less money.

  2. Hi, nice review. Just out of curiosity, being italian I can't quite figure out what a Mariana pizza is. Do you mean Marinara?

    1. Bruno - thank you very much for pointing out my typos. Marinara is exactly what I meant! I managed to mis-spell it quite a few times..!


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