This new category of “The Neighbourhood Gem” has been born as a result of a line of unsatisfactory visits to en vogue London restaurants. I concluded that a lot of the eateries that are the flavour at the moment in London, I just don’t rate particularly highly. I therefore decided together with my eater in crime, Uyen, instead of rushing to all new openings (I am honestly sick and tired of burgers) and endlessly hyped restaurants, to rather explore the neighbourhood eatery – usually a little gem that has been around forever and is recession-proof as it is frequented by loyal locals who keep coming to enjoy the food.
The Neighbourhood Gem is not part of a chain, the chef is not interviewed for Observer Food Monthly and also doesn’t cook in Saturday’s Kitchen. The no-booking policy is unheard of, the waiters don’t look like models and very often not even the service charge is included in the bill. And most importantly, the food is outstanding, reasonably priced and unpretentious. Nice, eh?
So, if you have a restaurant like this in your area, please let me know, I am keen to try.
The first restaurant to feature on Neighbourhood Gem I was introduced to by Uyen who suggested to meet there for one of our weekly dinners. ’Archway?’ I wondered, ‘Where the heck is Archway?’, making me embarrassingly aware of my ignorance of North London geography. I happily realised that Archway is indeed in London, only 15 minutes on the tube from my work (well 15 minutes when you take the right branch of the Northern Line) and agreed to venture into the unknown.
500 (Cinquecento) Restaurant won’t win a design award. It also won’t excel a food styling contest. But the food was real Italian! Authentic and seasonal and very tasty – I am considering moving to Archway actually.
The complimentary bread consisting of foccacia, Sardinian bread, ciabatta and a little rosemary roll tasted gorgeous together with the aromatic olive oil. The Insalata di anguria con pinoli, peperoncino, ricotta affumicats (7.40) was lovely and fresh. Ripe watermelon was beautifully complimented by shavings of mildly smoked ricotta and crunchy pine nuts. Even more I enjoyed Lonza di maiale servita con pesche, menta e aceto balsamico (7.80). Never before had I eaten cured ham in combination with luscious and sweet peaches and fragrant mint – this dish was a mild Italian summer evening on a plate.
Both pasta dishes were good, but the Pappardelle al ragu di manzo (11.80) was outstanding. The pappardelle were home-made and cooked to al dente perfection and were immersed and the most delectable and rich veal ragu with big chunks of melting meat sitting like little treasures between the pasta. I inhaled entire plate and couldn’t stop eating even after I was full to burst. Ravioli di ricotta con erbe estive e salsa pomodoro (11.80) was less mind-blowing but still a solidly good Italian dish consisting of home-made pasta parcels filled with ricotta and a plethora of different Italian herbs in a light tomato sauce.
The dessert was the weak point. Tiramisu (4.20) was to unpleasantly soggy and too boozy and I did not particularly enjoy it. However, the standard of the food was so high at 500 (Cinquecento) Restaurant that this will be forgiven. I don’t particularly care for desserts anyway.
The Italian waitress who spoke broken English was incredibly forthcoming and gracious and made sure all our wishes were taken care of. We even got a huge portion of samphire which was not on the menu. ÂMake sure to book, it would be a shame if you made the journey and realised all the tables are filled by local punters with good taste.
- Food: 7/10
- Service: 9/10
- Ambiance: 6/10
- Value for Money: 8/10
- Chances of Returning: 50%
- Verdict: Unpretentious and simply good Italian food.