Anima e Cuore (“heart and soul”) was opened in August 2014 by chef Mustapha Mouflih, who is of Moroccan descent but was born in Calabria. His chef partner is Alessandro Altoni, and both chefs (who met at culinary school near Lake Garda) have worked in some high-end London kitchens including L’Anima, Le Gavroche and Ledbury, though I am not sure in what capacity.
The menu offers food from all around Italy, and the chefs import their buffalo mozzarella and Parmesan directly from Italy, as well as making their own pasta. The restaurant is small, with just 22 covers, the dining room at the back behind a front area that offers gelato and coffee. It is a “bring your own bottle” format with no wine list and no corkage. Be aware that it is also cash only. The regularly changing menu appears on a blackboard (there is a menu on the website but this seems to be just a sample) that is presented to each table.
A type of deep-fried pizza dough called scazzoppoli was filled with roast beef and some salad leaves and served as a kind of sandwich. This was unusual and enjoyable, the beef quite good (13/20). Fettucini pasta came with broad beans and oxtail. The pasta was properly cooked and the beans brought some welcome balance to the richness of the oxtail. The seasoning was reasonable and the portion size very generous, though for me the oxtail could have had more concentrated flavour (13/20).
Bigoli pasta (a pasta from Veneto resembling spaghetti) came with ragu of duck. This pasta was what you might politely describe as al dente, but to be honest it was on the hard side of al dente and was just plain undercooked. This was a pity as the duck ragu had quite good depth of flavour (12/20). Again, this was a generous portion that would easily have served as a main course. Apple cake was simple but pleasant, being served with some vanilla ice cream that had visible dots of vanilla and smooth texture. The cake itself was a touch drier than it might have been (13/20).
Service was friendly, though our waiter seemed surprisingly confused when some of our party wanted to have a couple of the starters rather than follow the usual “starter -> primi > secondi” formula. It took a remarkably long time to unravel this situation, which must have been as frustrating for him as it was for us. The pace of dishes arriving was quite slow. We ended up having three savoury courses and a dessert, but no coffee, and this took a little over four hours. It was an enjoyable enough evening but this does not seem to be somewhere to go if you are in a rush. The bill came to £52 a head, which we rounded up to £60 as a tip (no charge for wine which we brought ourselves). Anima e Cuore is a pleasant and inexpensive neighbourhood restaurant with some quite unusual menu choices, and quite good ingredients. It is certainly worth considering if you are in the area.