Spaghetti House – Bringing the fresh taste of Crab to London diners

Peter Morrell reviews one of the capital’s culinary institutions as it celebrates its 60th anniversary

In 1955 two friends, Simone Lavarini and Lorenzo Fraquelli, opened the first Spaghetti House in London’s Goodge Street. After 60 years it still delivering the key elements of its success – quality wine and ingredients, homemade pasta and sauces, the freshness and natural flavours of Italian food and a warm, friendly welcome.

Today Spaghetti House is still very much a family business with the 2nd generation of Lavarini’s at the helm. There are now 11 branches across London, you can be revived by lunch after some intensive retail therapy just off Oxford Street or enjoy a pre-theatre dinner in Argyll Street before a show at the Palladium.

I have not been to a Spaghetti House for nearly 20 years but recently had lunch with a friend in the Kensington High Street location after hearing that they had Linguine al Granchio, Crab Pasta, on their Spring menu.

The interior of the restaurant had a cosy, rustic feel making it a comfortable place to eat and the staff are very welcoming. We nibbled on moreish Sicilian Nocellara del Belice olives served on ice while perusing the menu.

There was a good range of starters featuring things like Capresino, bufala mozzarella with tomatoes and Caponata, the classic Sicilian recipe of sautéed aubergines. My guest chose the Bruschetta, toasted rustic bread topped with chopped Roma vine tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil. It looked very attractive and my friend declared it delicious.

My choice was the Calamari fritti with aioli, a generous helping with a crunchy, seasoned coating hiding moist, tender rings of squid. For both of us it was a good introduction to the quality of the food.

The mains menu offered something for everyone, there were salads, oven roasted dishes, pastas and pizzas. The Insalata Suprema, packed with super foods like alfalfa, pomegranate and spelt looked tempting as a healthy option as did the Saltimbocca di Maiale, pan-fried pork escalope with Parma ham, garlic and sage. My friend’s Penne Pasta Arrabiata with a spicy tomato sauce, crushed red chillies and cherry tomatoes was very satisfying.

I had selected my main before arriving, the Linguine al Granchio. The pasta is tossed in fresh crab meat with matchstick strips of zucchini, olive oil, fennel seed, basil leaves, red chilli, garlic and lemon zest.

High quality shellfish is essential for this dish and is provided by fisherman Bert Lynham and his crew down in Portland, Dorset. They use traditional pots to catch the crabs before hand picking the meat and getting it on to diner’s plates within 24 hours. This speed of delivery keeps the taste of the white and brown flesh very fresh and delicate.

Eating the dish was a pleasure, the crunch of the zucchini, the spicy basil, the pings of flavour from the fennel seeds and the subtle warmth of the red pepper was a unique combination of tastes and textures.

The wine list had representatives from many of the regions of Italy and they were all very reasonably priced. My friend’s Pinot Grigio made by Giovanni Puiatti in the Friuli region gave grassy notes on the nose which developed into a rich flavour on the palate with hints of minerals. My wine, was a red from Sicily, a Nero d’Avola by Mandrarossa. This was a smooth mellow wine with summer fruits in the bouquet which persisted on the palate with the addition of spices and vanilla and gave a long finish.

The portions of the starters and the mains were generous to say the least so although the Tiramisu and the Panna Cotta both looked attractive as did the indulgent Torta Setteveli, the layered “Seven Veils”cake we passed on dessert.

Coffee is Italian, of course, provided by Illy, who started in Trieste in 1933.

My lunch at the Spaghetti House was a reminder of how much I had enjoyed my past visits and it is easy to see why the Spaghetti House has retained it’s popularity. Well sourced ingredients, the dishes all freshly prepared in the restaurants and cooked to allow the natural flavours of the food to shine through made it an enjoyable eating experience, with the added bonus of the special Italian welcome from the staff

The Spaghetti House
9 Kensington High St
London W8 5NP
Tel: 020 7937 8961
Email: khs@spaghettihouse.co.uk

For more information and the location of other branches go to www.spaghettihouse.co.uk

A Piece of History

Older readers will remember The Spaghetti House Siege which happened at the Knightsbridge branch (now closed due to re-development) in September 1975, 40 years ago. An armed robbery went wrong resulting in nine Italian staff being taken hostage. The country was kept enthralled by events for six days, happily the siege ended without anyone being harmed

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