If you’re looking for a slice of La Dolce Vita without leaving the country, check out our pick of the top spots for authentic Italian food in London, as chosen by an Italian. You can’t get much more authentic than that… Buon appetito!
Hidden below street level in the swishy Hari Hotel, stepping into Il Pampero feels like stepping back into to a bygone era of Italian glamour, all white tablecloths, deep green furnishings, low lighting and charming Italian waiters. It’s elegant without being ostentatious, and the leather-clad window booths add an important touch of cosiness (perfect for a date). The glamorous central bar is irresistible for a classic Italian aperitivo (beware the deliciously strong Negroni) before sitting down to a feast of antipasti that include beef carpaccio with generous shavings of black truffle and surprisingly moreish fried scamorza (smoked cheese) bites served on a bed of radicchio with balsamic vinegar.
With pasta made fresh on-site, it’s impossible to resist in its various incarnations on the menu. The highlight is undoubtedly the tonnarelli cacio e pepe dish, prepared in a parmesan wheel that’s rolled out to your table on a trolley for extra panache. You’ll find some more unusual pasta dishes on the menu too which are well worth a gander – but keep a bit of space for the veal Milanese, so large that it practically bursts out of the plate, giving Cecconi’s a real run for their money. A very special restaurant – it gets 5* from us. 20 Chesham Place, London SW1
TRY: Whatever the maître d’ recommends – he really does know best.
No Italian restaurant list would be complete without the legendary Padella, know for its standout homemade pasta dishes, tiny prices and gigantic queues. The menu features a handful of simple antipasti and ten pasta dishes, with everything from the simple-but-perfect tagliarini with slow-cooked tomato sauce to a more experimental chicken liver, sage and marsala pappardelle dish. The ingredients, flavours and flair are undoubtedly Italian, but with a smattering of the best of British (it is around the corner from Borough Market, after all) – Cobble Lane Cured ‘nduja and salami are made in London, and ravioli are stuffed with Neal’s Yard ricotta.
But the big question is this: is it really worth the three-hour wait? The answer is a resounding yes. Since opening, Padella has never been queue-less, and the wait only adds to the excitement and anticipation of it all. It’s become a ritual, even. Arrive early, leave your phone number and go exploring for a couple of hours – it’s the perfect excuse for a leisurely stroll around the area (local pub crawl, anyone?) before sitting down to a well-deserved plate or three of steaming hot, delicious pasta. Perfetto! 6 Southwark St, London SE1
TRY: The summer version of Padella’s famous Cacio e Pepe – the fabulous Pici with Marjoram, Golden Garlic and Lemon
Though not traditional, Popolo is undoubtedly one of the most exciting Italian restaurants to come to London. Drawing inspiration from Middle Eastern and Moorish cuisine, Jon Lawson has created an array of fusion dishes which even the most die-hard Italian would be proud of. Following the trend for small ‘sharing plates’, the restaurant is best experienced sitting at the counter looking into the open kitchen and ordering just about everything from the menu – this is not an exaggeration, practically everything is a ‘hero dish’.
Pasta is hand rolled for every service, ingredients are fresh and packed with flavour, and the natural wines come from small producers. So far, so Italian. But then the grilled octopus comes on a bed of smoky baba ghanoush, the fried olives are served with chickpeas and labne, and there’s a beautiful aubergine tempura with tahini, pistachio and pomegranate. The pasta dishes are more classic but no less stunning – especially the pork cheek agnolotti in silky porcini butter. This is the kind of food that will stay on your mind long after you’ve left… 26 Rivington Street, London EC2
What do you get when you combine the honest and delicious food of an Italian trattoria with the fizzy, sophisticated atmosphere of the London restaurant scene? Something rather close to perfection – AKA, Soho’s Bocca di Lupo. Whether nibbling on small plates at the bar (highly recommended) or seated at the chef’s table, an evening at Bocca is always fun, just as eating out in town should be. Having won numerous accolades since opening in 2008, it remains one of the best restaurants for Italian dining in London with its ever-changing menu that brings you the best of Italy’s highly distinctive regional specialities.
Take a culinary trip around the country in one sitting with Roman fried olives, mozzarella and sage leaves, before heading north for your pasta (the Ligurian spaghetti with clams, chilli, garlic and parsley are a classic) and then right down to Puglia for a mixed meat grill. With everything available as a small or a large plate, you can sample it all – perfect for the proper foodies among you. Finish it off with an espresso before heading out into the night. 12 Archer Street, London W1
TRY: The divine chilled raw tomato soup with burrata – beats Gazpacho anyday.
One for the meat lovers. Macellaio means ‘butcher’ in Italian, and that’s exactly what the South Kensington restaurant looks like upon entry. Focusing on the quality of their ingredients (as all good Italians do), the food at Macellaio is simple, but hits the spot every time. Do it Italian family lunch-style by ordering a ‘tagliere’ (wooden board) of mixed Italian charcuterie and cheeses for the table, and a great big Fiorentina steak and some salads for all to share, all washed down with lots of red wine. The tagliatelle al ragù are the best we’ve had this side of Bologna – best to get one each. 84 Old Brompton Road, London SW7
TRY: An interesting variety of offals, including testicles, if you dare.
Classic upmarket spot Daphne’s is a Chelsea institution, serving up seasonal Italian dishes with flair. The menu balances staunchly Italian recipes with ingredients befitting the postcode, especially come autumn with tagliatelle, risotto and veal covered in shavings of the finest white truffle. The veal and wild boar ragus are hearty, decadent and authentic, while lighter ‘fashionable’ dishes such as yellowtail sashimi with yuzu and tuna avocado tartare exhibit the excellence of ingredients used. Don’t miss the veal cutlet Milanese, accompanied by a stack of skinny deep-fried zucchini chips. This is the perfect place to try something a little different such as Sicilian-inspired chargrilled swordfish with caponata, or the calves liver with smoked pancetta and cipolline – at Daphne’s you can’t go wrong. 112 Draycott Avenue, London SW3
TRY: The scallops are huge, juicy and an absolute a must.
Anima e Cuore, Camden Town
One of the greatest pleasures of visiting Italy is discovering one of those tiny, unassuming eateries hidden away in the backstreets that makes the most wonderful food. Anima e Cuore is one such discovery – but in Camden Town. Since being ‘discovered’ by Time Out a few years ago, the 22-cover restaurant has become wildly popular, an issue made worse by the lack of a website and an unpredictable phoneline. Yet this only adds to its authenticity, and makes finally sitting down for your meal that much sweeter. Innovative starters such as tuna tartare with cucumber sorbet are served alongside classic pasta dishes like truffle taglierini and classic Bolognese ragu – all presented beautifully by waiters whose passion is palpable as they explain each dish. BYOB, and no corkage! Our resident Italian’s top pick. 129 Kentish Town Road, London NW1. Call: 020 7267 2410
TRY: Whichever ravioli they’re making fresh that day, and their homemade ice cream for dessert.
The uber elegant restaurant at The Wellesley is a great place for a special occasion supper, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings when you can enjoy exquisite Italian food accompanied by the smooth sounds of live jazz. Is there a better combination? Each dish is beautifully constructed with the finest ingredients. Of particular note are the tartare starters – both the smoked tuna tartare with crispy duck egg yolk and avocado puree, and the beef with Norcia truffle are exceptional. The pasta dishes distinguish themselves thanks to the introduction of unusual ingredients such as saffron, green apple and lime to complement more traditional Italian flavours. If you can’t decide, go for the tasting menu which showcases Oval’s best. The after-supper treats served in a lacquer Cohiba box add an extra sparkle to a memorable evening. 11 Knightsbridge, London SW1
TRY: A cigar in the legendary Cigar Room.
Islington is one of the hottest areas in London right now, so it’s only fitting that it is packed with plenty of cool restaurants. One such restaurant is Radici, the newest Italian from top chef Francesco Mazzei – only this time, it’s rather more affordable. The restaurant lies across from the Almeida Theatre meaning it’s a hub for the area’s cultured crowd who chat away in the swanky but down-to-earth surroundings.
One of the few places to serve equally excellent pizza and pasta, the concise menu is a little more creative than most and heavily inspired by Southern Italy with Tropea onion and tuna, and Sicilian aubergine and ricotta pizzas which are rarely found elsewhere. With a Margherita pizza at only £8, you can afford to try a few different plates – order a few cicchetti then the burrata tortelli (heavenly) and homely taglierini with beans and pancetta. And leave space for dessert (especially the marsala tiramisu). 30 Almeida Street, London N1
TRY: The zucchini fritti are some of the best in town.
Cecconi’s has become a London institution, attracting the glitzy crowd from far and wide all searching for a slice of old-school Italian glamour. The establishment was opened just off Savile Row in 1978 by Enzo Cecconi, the youngest-ever general manager of the renowned Cipriani in Venice, finally bringing Londoners fresh and authentic Italian food. It’s remained a magnet for celebrities and international royalty through the years, drawn by the theatrics and grandeur of the restaurant reminiscent of Cecconi’s original vision. With its plush bottle-green furnishings and beautiful central bar, nibble on some cicchetti while sipping a legendary Bellini or Negroni. The vitello tonnato is one of the best, while the Veal Milanese (pictured above) is unrivalled. For a more affordable option, go for the set lunch menu. 5A Burlington Gardens, Mayfair, London W1
TRY: Fried calamari with lemon aioli that’ll take you right back to the shores of the Amalfi Coast.
Head Chef at Mercante is the young and highly talented Davide D’Ignazio, who has come straight from some of the best Michelin-starred restaurants in Rome. His menu pulls together dishes from all over Italy, allowing guests to broaden their understanding of Italian food with plates such as Panzanella (a fresh salad using bread), ox tongue and Gnocchi all’ortica (nettle gnocchi) which one rarely comes across. Taking inspiration from the bustling markets of Naples, Rome and Venice, the menu changes regularly and seasonally, often showcasing unusual regional specialities and ingredients. The restaurant is comprised of a large dining room, perfect for groups of family and friends to enjoy a big, jovial meal in true Italian style without the Mayfair price tag or stuffiness. Sheraton Grand London, Piccadilly, London W1
TRY: The duck ravioli with Amarone wine reduction.
Know an Italian restaurant that we’ve missed? Let us know your recommendations by commenting below…
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