The best Italian delis nurture strong relationships with suppliers, to import the finest products. Crumbly Parmigiano-Reggiano chipped from the wheel in rugged butter-yellow chunks; dry-cured ham from Parma, sweet from its time spent in salt — anything up to three years; the grassiest olive oils and the most expressive wines. It makes sense to show off these ingredients but anyone can arrange meat and cheese on a plate — it takes talent to keep both shop and restaurant exciting.Read More
London’s Essential Italian Deli Restaurants
Where Italy’s finest produce can be enjoyed in situ, as well as at home
Table @ Vallebona
This deli and occasional cafe run by fourth generation family member Stefano Vallebona supplies The River Cafe, Le Gavroche, Harvey Nichols, Harrods and The Dorchester. The business was founded in 1890 by Stefano’s grandfather Agostino, a single-minded Sicilian who would trek on foot through Sardinia’s craggy hills to trade olive oil and bottarga with the northern states of Italy and Spain. Specialities here include cheese which is matured and cut to order in a dedicated cheese room, and a thoughtful selection of charcuterie. The mortadella in particular is exceptional, sourced from the village of Felino in Emilia Romagna. On Saturdays the warehouse turns into a cafe, serving Roman-style pizza and sharing platters.
Charlie Boxer’s much loved community deli and cafe occupies a corner of Bonnington Square, a bohemian residential nook which feels slightly otherworldly within earshot of Vauxhall’s screaming traffic. While many Italian delis lean towards the commercial in terms of decor, Italo has a charming village shop vibe. Plates from the café take wider European inspiration, offering up the likes of potato, prune and pancetta farçon — now on the menu every weekend — served by the pan-fried slice with chilli sausages and Dijon.
The Lina Stores deli opened on Brewer street in 1944 and is now as much a part of Soho as sex shops and musty boozers. The distinctive green branding has been present from the start, but honed over the years to a familiar minty hue. Stand out products include the Parmigiano Vacche Brune made from the milk of the Bruna cow — try it with fig or quince mostarda — and prosciutto that is arguably some of the best to be found in London, its fat particularly milky-sweet. At the restaurant (a short walk away on Greek street), gnudi are standout, a far cry from the usual pudgy zeppelins. Ricotta from the deli is combined with spinach, breadcrumbs, egg and nutmeg, then slipped into a sage and butter sauce.
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Pulia started out as a deli with a restaurant attached, but it’s now very much the opposite. As the name informs, everything is sourced from Italy’s heel. Puglia is the country’s largest producer of wines and olive oil and there are interesting varietals to be found here. The restaurant’s biggest seller is burrata from the city of Andria, where the creamy cheese was born. Look out for regional pasta shapes: the famous orecchiette, or ‘little ears,’ served classically with chilli, anchovy and garlic, and troccoli — like thick spaghetti — with octopus ragù. Every component of the decor was designed and made by a Puglian creative, including lampshades in the shape of trulli, the traditional white houses with conical roofs.
Another Puglian specialist is Li Veli, a joint venture between two families — one a producer of wine, another in the hotel business. A highlight is the ’burnt wheat’ orecchiette made with toasted flour which brings a smoky, nutty flavour to the pasta. The modern toasting method is thought to derive from the practice of gleaning, when farmers would burn remaining wheat stubble before planting a new year’s crop. The wheat ash was scavenged by those in need, and incorporated into pasta. At the restaurant, don’t miss the pistachio ice cream with Masseria San Domenico olive oil — a salty, grassy delight.
The first of five Olivo restaurants opened in Belgravia in 1990 serving Sardinian cuisine, which was pretty much unrepresented in the London at the time. Spaghetti bottarga is a favourite here along with linguine al granchio, with crab, chilli, garlic and parsley. Find the best of Sardinia in the deli, including the extraordinary miele amaro or bitter honey, produced from the pollen of the corbezzolo tree, and a Sardinian ham to rival the prime haunches of Parma.
A close relationship with suppliers is the foundation of this west London deli and pizza restaurant, according to co-owner Massimo Lopez. Bread and pastries are the stars, produced on site using Italian flour including their tantalising cornetto, a little horn-shaped croissant variation filled with Nutella. Pizza is Roman-style, with a crisper base than the widely appreciated Neapolitan dominant in London. Dough is proved for 96 hours and topped with the finest from the deli. Top tip: the 24 month cured prosciutto Sant’ Ilaro is excellent, voted number three on Italy’s “Best Prosciutto” list.
Cafe Murano Pastificio
The deli next door to Angela Hartnett’s Cafe Murano is essentially a production area for the restaurant, albeit with plenty left over for everyone else to take home. It’s all about the pasta, made with eggs from Fluffets Farm on the edge of the New Forest: the pumpkin tortelli with butter and crisp, shimmering sage leaves, and rigatoni with Tuscan fennel sausage ragu are both standouts. If eating alone or as a pair, it’s most fun to sit at the bar.