A week ago, my daughter Nicola came down from Birmingham for the weekend and was taking her partner Rachael into London in the afternoon for some birthday treats. The birthday girl was first given a surprise of ice skating on the rink outside the Natural History Museum and then taken inside for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. Where could they eat afterwards? my daughter asked. Did I know a good but not too expensive Italian restaurant they could go to? Well the South Kensington area is full of restaurants and cafés and food shops but I couldn’t at first think of a well-priced but good Italian … until I suddenly remembered Orsini. And what could be more perfect as Orsini is situated right opposite the Victoria & Albert Museum and thus almost the Natural History Museum.
I was first introduced to Orsini by my friend Rona a few years ago. I guess we were going to an exhibition at the V&A, though what I remember more clearly is the food afterwards! Since then I’ve popped into Orsini a number of times, but always for a snack – perhaps a bowl of soup – around lunchtime. I like its informality and the freshness of its cooking. Here you will find authentic Italian food. Well, Nicola and Rachael came back saying they’d had a wonderful meal there last Friday evening and so I thought I really must go again myself. And that fitted perfectly with my plan to meet my Italian friend Lucia in South Kensington for a drink and food late yesterday afternoon before going into the V&A at 7.00pm to see the Constable exhibition.
Now taking an Italian into an Italian restaurant is a little risky for, as I’ve said before, the Italians are very particular about their food and very knowledgeable and what you think is authentic might well not meet their high standards. But on the other hand, I did want to know what Lucia thought of Orsini. In fact she didn’t want to eat much as she’d had a large lunch, so she settled for just cake, while I was hungry and ready to tuck into a plate of pasta or risotto. The restaurant was about half full downstairs as we went in, not long after 5.00pm, so early for diners. We opted to go upstairs and were the only diners for a time until a large family party joined us. I’d certainly book if I was going later in the evening, though.
Orsini is a very informal place – more a caffé than a ristorante in many ways. Open from 9.00am until 11.00pm (10.00pm on Sundays), you could pop in for just a coffee and pastry early in the day. Despite its simplicity there’s a nice atmosphere. Lucia and I ordered glasses of prosecco while we decided what to eat.
It was good prosecco (£6.50 a glass). I ordered one of the specials of the day: Gnocchi with salsiccia, aubergines and cherry tomatoes (£13.95).
As soon as it was put in front of me, Lucia said that it looked just like authentic gnocchi from the south of Italy. And then I told her that the owners of Orsini come from Naples: ‘We are Neapolitans,’ they write on the website, ‘and we take our food seriously … (it’s) prepared the traditional way … just the way we make it at home.’ And it was wonderful! Gnocchi can be heavy things but here at Orsini, cooked well, they were light and absolutely delicious. The sauce was rich and tasty: tender pieces of sausage, small cubes of aubergine and meltingly soft small tomatoes full of flavour. This was ‘home cooking’ at its best: a simple but fabulous dish. Meanwhile, Lucia was eating a ricotta and pear cake, which she said was good too.
Everything was very relaxed. It’s a great place to sit and quietly chat and catch up – we hadn’t seen each other for weeks. We didn’t eat a huge amount but were there for about an hour and a half. All the time the service was friendly, anything we asked for came quickly and with a smile. I liked that they brought a carafe of water when I asked for tap water. I had an espresso at the end and once we’d paid our bill, we only had to cross the road to head into the V&A. I’m so glad I went back to Orsini and will definitely go back again soon.