Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A blossoming inn

A review of Osteria dell’Arancio, Kings Road, Chelsea, SW3

Osteria dell’Arancio stands on the site of a notorious pub called The Water Rat.

The exterior of Osteria dell'Arancio

Situated in Chelsea’s World’s End, The Water Rat was one of the few properties in the area that escaped bombing during World War II but it’s own history is itself gruesome. Patrons in the 1960s inhabited two different worlds: on one floor you’d find hippies and punks and on the other some of London’s most vicious gangsters.

“All-round good geezer” John Bindon, one of London’s most notorious underworld characters during the 1960s, was one of the best-known patrons of the establishment. Bindon, famed for his large penis and his party trick of hanging pint pugs from it, was an enforcer for the Kray brothers and also acted in films by Stanley Kubrick, Ken Loach and Nicolas Roeg. Bindon was photographed on Mustique with Princess Margaret and made frequent claims about having had sex with her. Another aristocratic lover, and one he regularly beat up, was The Hon. Vicki Hodge. Of him, she remarked: "He was very considerate - he never marked my face" but the punks who frequented The Water Rat were not quite so fortunate when they came into contact with Bindon.

John Bindon (1943 – 1993)

After the closure of The Water Rat, the building, in a move plainly inspired by Guy Ritchie’s film of the same name, briefly became a pub called Snatch in 2002. This was a disaster but the authentic Italian trattoria that replaced it in 2005 is truly well worth trying.

Decorated cheerfully and quirkily, this is a rustically styled restaurant that is relaxed yet jolly. Patrons ranged from middle-class couples wielding special offer coupons to the Russian billionaire Sergey Viktorovich Pugachyov and his partner Countess Alexandra Tolstoy. The manager, Tommy Graziani, and his team, though, are what really make the place as they were attentive without being intrusive.

Sergey Viktorovich Pugachyov and Countess Alexandra Tolstoy

Osteria dell’ Arancio’s head chef is Pierluigi Sandonnini. Hailing from Piedmont, Sandonnini previously worked with Michelin-starred Federico Coria before moving to London in 2005 to work first at Osteria dell’Arancio and then Giusto and Obika. Now in his second stint at the restaurant, he describes his style as a “contemporary approach to traditional dishes.”

Osteria dell'Arancio's head chef Pierluigi Sandonnini

We opted to leave our food choices to Mr Graziani and he did not disappoint. In total, if my memory serves me correctly, we managed an astonishing seven courses on our culinary tour and all were glorious. The roasted squid with Roman chicory and anchovies sauce (£12) was an instant hit with my dining companion and I thought the pappardelle with spicy sausage from Calabria (£10) was utterly delicious. The wild boar stew with soft polenta (£17), however, was the highlight: rich and soup like, this is the dish not to miss.

To conclude, we tried Osteria dell’Arancio’s traditional tiramisu (£5). It could not be faulted but the selection of Italian cheeses served with honey and jam (£12) were also a pure joy.

The bar at Osteria dell'Arancio

Osteria dell’Arancio is a paradise for wine lovers. By the glass, due to the restaurant having an Enomatic® wine machine, options are extensive but the vast selection housed in the glass fronted ground floor cantina is just superb. With more than 70 wines under £30, diners can enjoy everything from house wine at £24 a bottle to a £1,500 a bottle Barbaresco. For me, a 2006 Brunello was a most definite highlight.

As we left, I spotted a Rolls Royce belonging, I assume, to the aforementioned billionaire. Times have certainly changed and the food is undoubtedly vastly better at Osteria dell’ Arrancio, but as I passed the two burly bodyguards, I couldn’t help wondering what Johnny Bindon would make of the new crowd frequenting his old haunt.

A Facebook group devoted to a certain part of Bindon’s anatomy can be viewed at: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=12938875249

Osteria dell’Arancio, 383 Kings Road, London, SW10 0LP. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7349 8111. Website: http://www.osteriadellarancio.co.uk


David Gray said...

Bindon was a bizarre character: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3645442/Aged-14-and-already-a-harder-man-than-most.html

Kay said...

I will try this restaurant as a result of your review. Thanks for another great tip.

Tomas Tomukas said...

I am passing this restaurant quite a lot and it always captured my interest.. But haven't yet visited it. So probably it's time.

Jeanette O. said...

I also pass this often and have for some reason not tried it yet. I must.