Hattie Lloyd 02/12/22
The Italians have given London a lot over the years: its name, a bridge over the Thames AND its first proper plumbing.
Before then, it was just a pipe dream.
Fortunately a little of their culinary nous has rubbed off too, because there’s now a dazzling array of Italian restaurants in London – from authentic trattorias to Michelin-starred restaurants and casual Italian eateries brimming with fresh pasta.
So raise a glass to our ancestors and stop by one of their descendants’ best spots for a bite…
Campania | Hackney
An artfully dilapidated Southern Italian restaurant housed in a former dairy. Amidst worn wooden furnishings and abundant foliage, with an authentic nonna rolling out some of London’s best fresh pasta in the back kitchen, you can dine on exemplary cacio e pepe, pan-fried fish, and meatballs as big as your fist. In the summer, tables spill out onto the patio outside; perfect for a restorative glass of wine after walking down the Columbia Road Flower Market.
Details: 23 Ezra Street, E2 7RH | Book table
Manteca | Shoreditch
Nose-to-tail dining is easy to get behind, and at Manteca it’s been given one heck of an Italian twist. Whole ducks are brought in, dry-aged and then star in a duck liver parfait with black date jam & black truffle (the latter for an extra fiver, doo it) and hand-rolled fazzoletti (the handkerchief pasta) featuring duck ragu and duck fat pangrattato. Meanwhile pigs are butchered into a cold roast porchetta tonnato with tuna sauce, and a slow-cooked pork blade with three-cornered leeks – plus boards of fennel pollen salami, coppa and pancetta sliced in their in-house salumeria. Then there’s clam flatbreads from their wood-fired oven, and the Cornish squid dressed in a green pepper salsa (which has the wings, the hoods, the throats, the tentacles, the lot) also from the wood-fired oven. It’s all good, from top to bottom…
Details: 49-51 Curtain Road, EC2A 3PT | Book a table
Lina Stores | Soho, King’s Cross, The City, Marylebone
75 years after opening their legendary Italian deli in Soho, the folks behind Lina Stores decided to try their hand at opening an Italian restaurant. You’ll find it a stones throw away from the original shop – a sweet, little vienetta-coloured space, where the best seats in the house are at their 12-seater dining counter overlooking the kitchen. Food wise it’s a mix of traditional Italian antipasti – things like Polpette di Melanzane – followed by fresh, house-made pasta. Which, as it happens, they conveniently serve in half portions (some for just £6) allowing you to comfortably feast on more than just one.
Details: Lina Stores Soho: 51 Greek Street, Soho, W1D 4EH | Lina Stores King’s Cross: 20 Stable St, London N1C 4DR | Lina Stores City: 19 Bloomberg Arcade, London EC4N 8AR | Lina Stores Marylebone: 13-15 Marylebone Lane, London W1U 2NE | Book table
Trullo | Highbury
Housed in Highbury, Trullo is an Italian restaurant with a British accent. Tim Siadatan, formerly on the pans at St John and Moro, provides a seasonal menu that changes frequently (sometimes twice daily) with a focus on hand-made pasta and charcoal-grilled meats. The net curtain halfway up the windows, the white tablecloths and the wood furnishings combine to give the place an authentic Italian flavour… which you’ll also find on your plate, in the form of chargrilled quail with aioli; pappardelle with chicken liver, sage and marsala; and Amalfi lemon tart. Add to that a stonking great wine list, and Trullo is a consistently high performer.
Details: 300-302 St. Pauls Road, Highbury East, N1 2LH | Book table
Gloria | Shoreditch
Gloria sits in the heart of Shoreditch, so you’re probably imagining exposed brickwork, chalkboard menus and handlebar moustaches as far as the eye can see. Gloria couldn’t be further from it. A sea of bright, clashing textures, colours, and chintz, the bombastic Gloria brings a refreshingly different aesthetic to Great Eastern Street. It was the first London opening for Paris’ Big Mamma Group (also behind Circolo Popolare, Ave Mario and two more London restaurants opening soon), who have a rep for dialling everything up to 11. You’ll find “London’s longest grissini” breadsticks, 10 layer-deep lasagnes, profiteroles the size of shot-puts, and cocktails containing porcini mushroom wine and truffle foam. This is 20th century Italy remixed, reworked, and reconstructed, delivering something for all the senses.
Details: 54-56 Great Eastern St, EC2A 3QR | Book table
Bocca Di Lupo | Soho
It’s a stylish regional Italian restaurant, courtesy of Jacob Kenedy (previously at much-loved Moro). The focus is authentic, regional cooking, which you can either enjoy together as a table or individually thanks to most being offered in both small and large portion sizes. They also boast a BYO truffle menu, where the chefs will clean and slice your truffles before serving them to you in one of three select dishes.
Details: 12 Archer Street, Soho, W1D 7BB | Book table
Sorella | Clapham
The Amalfi Coast comes to Clapham: that’s the headline at Sorella, owned by Robin and Sarah Gill of The Dairy fame. Housed in the same space as their former hit restaurant The Manor, the place oozes with the rustic style of Southwest Italy. Simple furnishings and exposed brick are the backdrop to homely, Southern Italian-leaning plates, and the desserts offer a twist you’re unlikely to encounter elsewhere – try the Malted Barley Affogato & Vodka Milk, or a digestif of “Cello, is it mint you’re looking for”.
Details: 148 Clapham Manor Street, SW4 6BX | Book table
The River Café | Hammersmith
The River Café attempts to offer a full tour of Europe’s boot, from zipper to heel. Over a quarter of a century of operation, an impressive level of prestige has been cultivated here, including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the founders of Soho’s Randall & Aubin. All of this excellence comes at a price – which you’ll be paying – but having earned and kept a Michelin star since 1997, you know you’ll be enjoying Italian cooking at the top of its game. With the Thames lapping against its shores, the restaurant has a few fish-based signatures that are well worth a try; including wood roasted turbot and John Dory smoked in their own wood stove. The wine list offers something from every region and would require a guidebook to get through. By the time you get to the heel… you’ll be legless.
Details: Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, London W6 9HA | Book table
Padella | London Bridge and Shoreditch
The little sister of Trullo, this fresh, house-made pasta joint seems to have been trending since the day it opened. So much so in fact they recently cut the ribbon to an even bigger site, Padella Shoreditch, and yet still you’re unlikely to get in without queuing. It’s definitely worth it though – plates of fettuccine with Cobble Lane cured Nduja, marscarpone and lemon; pappardelle with 8 hour beef shin ragu; and a textbook tagliarini finished with pangrattato, and all eminently affordable. So if you’re happy to wait this really is the best way to enjoy primo pasta on a budget.
Details: 6 Southwark Street, SE1 1TQ and 1 Phipp Street, Hackney, EC2A 4PS | No reservations: if you’d like to go, just turn up – and be prepared for completely insane queues.
Bancone | Covent Garden & Soho
Another fresh pasta spot to add to London’s growing embarrassment of riches, Bancone’s won a legion of loyal fans… and a Michelin Bib Gourmand. The pasta’s made daily, in-house, and is padded out with moreish antipasti, classic Italian desserts and house wines starting at £6 a glass. Plus, it’s right where you need it, hidden in plain sight in London’s most touristy area.
Details: Bancone Covent Garden: 39 William IV Street, WC2N 4DD; Bancone Soho: 8-10 Lower James Street, W1F 9EL | Book here
Legare | Tower Bridge
A tiny little pastel-hued enclave tucked at the bottom of a Victorian spice warehouse. Legare is the product of a Barrafina General Manager and a Trullo sous-chef, and it shows – with fresh pasta made daily on site, a rapidly shifting menu of seasonal Italian dishes, and a superb Italian wine list to wash it all down.
Details: Cardamom Building, 31G Shad Thames, SE1 2YB | Book here
Murano | Mayfair
“If you want to learn Italian cooking, go work for a Scot” said nobody, ever – until of course Angela Hartnett opened Murano, won a Michelin star, and showed that her time with Gordon Ramsay had allowed her to unlock the secrets to Mediterranean cuisine (she also does, in fact, have Italian heritage, but if we’d told you that the set-up wouldn’t have been as good). The set-up at Murano on the other hand needs no tweaking to impress. It’s classic Italian dining, in the heart of Mayfair, so the tablecloths are white, the service is silver and the food, exquisite. The devil here is in the detail. It’s a requirement that nearly all oils, vinegars, and sherries be made in house, from scratch; and all those homemade staples are expertly combined to deliver dishes such as broad bean and rosemary arancini; rabbit leg with Pecorino; smoked pork belly; and apricot soufflé. This is a suave Italian restaurant for those living la dolce vita.
NOTE: For a more down to earth, but equally delicious version of Murano you could head over to either Cafe Murano St. James or Cafe Murano Covent Garden, where the vibe is more banquette than banquet and the decor is relaxed, modern, and centred around countertop dining.
Details: 20 Queen Street Mayfair London W1J 5PP | Book here
Mele e Pere | Soho
Three is a good combo in Italy: three colours in the flag, three flavours in Neapolitan ice cream, and three ingredients in a negroni. So when three Italian brothers set out to create a neighbourhood Italian restaurant in Soho, they were surely onto a good thing. Independent and self-reliant, they make many of their products on-site daily, including bread, ice cream, pasta, and even their vermouth. That vermouth joins London’s largest collection of the stuff behind the bar, alongside an exclusively Italian wine list, and numerous sharing platters and light bites on offer. But for a full meal you can expect total trattoria indulgence, in the form of carbonara arancini, lobster gratin, squid ink spaghetti, steak Fiorentina, and plenty of homemade gelato. It’s simple, rustic, and utterly authentic.
Details: 46 Brewer Street, Soho, London, W1F 9TF | Book here
Polpo | Soho and Chelsea
A London institution for a reason. Russell Norman’s take on the classic Venetian bacaro has been winning fans since 2009, thanks to its trademark mix of rustic-industrial interiors, mouthwatering Italian ‘tapas’ dishes, and secret Campari bars. Slide into a red leather booth or take a stool up at the bar, and order up a feast of cacio e pepe, moreish polpette and crisp miniature pizzette topped with spinach and a perfectly runny egg.
Details: Polpo Soho, 41 Beak Street, Soho, Central London, W1F 9SB | Polpo Chelsea, 81 Duke of York Square, London SW3 4LY | Book here
Trattoria Brutto | Farringdon
And where do you go after opening one of the most popular restaurant mini-empires in the city? You open an ‘ugly but good’ restaurant in Farringdon, serving hefty portions of Florentine dishes like T-bone steak and pappardelle with rabbit ragu alongside half-litre jugs of house wine in an old-school, chequered tablecloth-toting eatery.
Details: 36-37 Greenhill Rents, Cowcross St, EC1M 6BN | Book here
Popolo | Shoreditch
Popolo, besides being a bit of a tongue twister if you say it after Polpo above, is a Michelin Bib Gourmand-toting restaurant specialising in Italian small plates that are best suited for sharing with friends – which is basically the green light to go ahead and order the entire menu. Something you’ll want to do anyway (perched on one of the 16 kitchen-facing counter seats), as there’s pork cheek and porcini butter agnolotti, large diver scallops topped with n’duja, red wine and chestnut risotto and burnt-honey panna cotta, among others, to get through. In all honesty, it’s perfectly acceptable (and encouraged) to do this by yourself too…
Details: 26 Rivington Street, EC2A 3DU | Book a table
Artusi | Peckham
Artusi is a Peckham neighbourhood joint with an Italian core. Sourcing as many of its ingredients as possible locally, it then whips them up into hearty Italian dishes. The furnishings are simple, the walls are white, a chalkboard tells you what you can eat, and the food does the talking. And as Italian is a romance language, you’re highly likely to fall in love with what’s on your plate. The seasonal, flexible menu ranges from cuttlefish ragù to cucumber and apple tonic sorbet, with plenty of pasta, pork, and cheese in between.
Details: 161 Bellenden Road, London, SE15 4DH | Book here
Forza Win | Camberwell
Praise be! Peckham’s much-loved Italian restaurant has returned from its COVID disappearance and been resurrected in the streets of Camberwell. Mastering the art of simplicity, Forza Win perfects straight-up, no fuss Italian food with a traditional five course menu. We’re talking silky tagliatelle with chicken stock, egg yolk and lemon (primi), aubergine parmigiana that melts in your mouth (secondi)… and there’s also a ton of wine to see you through the night.
Details: 31 Camberwell Church Street, SE5 8TR | Book a table
Forza Wine | Peckham
The secret to following up one of London’s best Italian restaurants? Well, the Forza Win folk have added a huge 60-cover rooftop terrace, food ranging from grilled flatbreads with sausage & onion ragu to bowls of clams with white verdicchio wine & butter, loads of Italian wine and classic Italian cocktails, an ice cream machine (turning out soft-serve flavours like stem ginger & honeycomb or dulce de leche & candied pecans) annnnd, last but not least, an ‘e’ on the end of the name. It’s still a win though…
Details: 5th Floor, The Market, 133 Rye Lane, SE15 4ST | Book here
Marcella | Deptford
Marcella is the sister to Artusi and, sticking with family tradition, focuses firmly on simplicity. The dining room is pared back, pastel toned, with whitewashed walls and the obligatory chalkboard. The menu also makes for efficient reading with only 3 starters, 3 pastas, 3 mains, and – wait for it – 3 desserts. But keeping the options tight means each dish can flourish, and with options including spaghetti with confit cod cheeks; fried artichoke with aioli; and veal with fennel and orange, Marcella turns Deptford into a doorway to the Apennine peninsula.
Details: 165A Deptford High Street, SE8 3NU | Book here
Maremma | Brixton
Maremma is Brixton’s take on Tuscan tuck. Named after an unspoilt stretch of Tuscany known for its top-notch nosh, Maremma looks to recreate the flavoursome and rustic cuisine of Northern Italy. The region is a hunting mecca, and you won’t have to hunt hard here to uncover numerous game and seafood dishes, cooked lightly to bring out the natural flavours complimented by potatoes, cheese, and beans. It’s simple and sumptuous, a feel that has been extended to the decor, which like most places these days, is stripped back and casual. The wine list contains a number of rare finds, many of which have never been showcased in the UK before, so you really can take your tastebuds on a little Tuscan holiday.
Also great: check out Maremma’s little brother Il Maremmano, a cosy ‘apericena’ bar tucked round the corner.
Details: 36 Brixton Water Lane, SW2 1PE | Book here
Like Italian food? Then perhaps you’d like to find a nice little wine bar for a nightcap…
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