If you're looking for a chain brasserie, sit-down fast food joint or somewhere with very loud music and patient staff within walking distance of Hampstead and Belsize park Tubes, you're spoiled for choice. Somewhere less, well, familiar is harder to find. But not impossible.
Artigiano, five minutes' walk from Belsize Park, is a classy Italian joint that comes with street-side tables, lots of room and a light show that moves gently through all the colours in the palette as you chew your marinated olives, and a super wine list entirely sourced from Italy. Chef Guiliano Vilardo spent some years at the Italian embassy, so is well versed in producing imaginative food that won't scare the fussy eater. After an exquisiste caponata with buffalo mozzarella and broad beans, was rabbit, and my heart sang with joy.
Rabbit is remarkably rare on a London menu. One can understand why, because the Brits are absurdly squeamish about boiling Benjamin, but it's a terrible waste. Rabbit is the king of flesh: as light as chicken but far more exciting, a meat that soaks up all surrounding flavours and merely makes them richer. Vilardo's rabbit was a triumph: casseroled with olives, baby artichokes, potatoes and courgettes, it was like stepping straight out of rainy Hampstead into the Med.
A crostata Morbida al Cioccolata (sounds so much better than "Death by Chocolate", doesn't it?) was lightened by a gentle chocolate sorbet, and strawberries marinaded in spumante with balsamic vinegar will be turning up in my garden this summer. Bang on.
Artigiano, 12 Belsize Terrace, London NW3 (0171-794 4288)
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