Britain has come a long way from sourcing olive oil over the pharmacy counter and being wowed by Elizabeth David’s revelatory prose on Mediterranean cooking — London’s Italian restaurant scene is all the better for it. Now, it’s possible to get a taste of Rome in Old Street, take a trip to the Amalfi Coast via Clapham, or be charmed by classic Neapolitan pizza in Ealing. There’s not a checked tablecloth or oversized pepper grinder in sight: just exquisite pasta, pizza, and much more.Read More
London’s Best Italian Restaurants
Where to go for a slice of la dolce vita in the capital
Santa Maria Pizzeria
It’s Neapolitan all the way at Ealing’s Santa Maria. Keep things traditional with the margherita: a slim base topped with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella and parmesan. However, the purists also have a short vegan (mamma mia!) menu including a (soy) cream of potato pie with onions and peppers. There are also locations in Chelsea and Fitzrovia, but this is the original, and remains the sine qua non of Neapolitan pizza in London, depending on who is making the claim.
The River Café
An iconic pillar of Italian dining in London, The River Café in Hammersmith is as revered today as when Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray opened its doors more than 30 years ago. The menu, as it has always done, sings to the tune of the seasons and shows off the finest ingredients. Expect risotto with winter greens, dover sole whole roasted in the hot pink wood oven or buffalo ricotta-stuffed ravioli drenched in marjoram butter. There’s always one constant: the decadent chocolate nemesis dessert.
One for special occasions, Giorgio Locatelli’s Locanda Locatelli is just as thrilling as it was when it opened nearly 20 years ago. The convivial atmosphere in Marylebone is the result of Locatelli’s unstinting commitment to hospitality excellence, which, like his food, never rests on well-earned laurels. Brilliant dishes like freshly made pappardelle with ceps; or malfatti potato parcels with peppers, mint, and Parmesan; and roast monkfish with walnut and caper sauce and samphire keep diners happy, and coming back for more.
Vasco & Piero's Pavilion Italian Restaurant
This Soho stalwart has lost none of its Umbrian charm since its unceremonious removal from Poland Street. In new premises, conscientious fresh pasta still rules, with Tuscan sausages, grilled fish, and chicken Milanese taking centre stage come mains.
Order a house vermouth on the rocks then dive headfirst into Sorella’s succinct menu for a taste of the Amalfi Coast in Clapham. Nibble on deep-fried Nocellara olives and perhaps some peppery pork and fennel salumi. Proving beige is best, there’s tagliatelle with wild mushrooms and truffle or the underrated squash gnocchi with chard. Charred whole plaice and crispy potatoes provide a cheering third act. Then dessert. There’s no doubt that the malted barley affogato is deserving of its fan base but the perfectly balanced plate of Casatica di Bufala, plums, honey and walnut crackers is another worthy dish. Or, just get both.
Bocca di Lupo
Still possessing one of the most enchanting menus in the city, Jacob Kenedy’s Soho restaurant (and its adjacent gelato parlour, Gelupo) spans Italian regionalism with aplomb. Roman fritti; pasta in tribute to Bologna, Sardinia, and Veneto; a caffe corretto straight from Hades. 14 years after opening, it remains as bewitching as it is seminal.
It’s fair to say that Soho’s Bar Italia is an institution, serving espressos from 7 a.m. to 5 a.m. Watch Frith Street go by from an outside table or grab a stool inside the narrow, paraphernalia-filled cafe. Cappuccinos and croissants are order of the day for breakfast, or stop by for a late-night cannolo and caffeine kick.
Pull up a bright red chair outside the bright blue Italo deli on the corner of a leafy street in Vauxhall. There might be vitello tonnato, cold sliced veal with a heavy slick of creamy sauce with capers, or plates nearly overflowing with golden polenta, wild mushrooms and sage. Browse the colourful shelves, packed full of Italian imports, before leaving with some pasta or exemplary canned tomatoes.
Cafe Murano Covent Garden
For refined and generous dishes, look no further than Angela Hartnett’s Café Murano. The menu picks the best from Italy’s northern regions: tortelli stuffed with pumpkin; hearty risotto Milanese with osso bucco. Punchy flavours accent simply cooked meat and fish dishes, seen in tender grilled octopus with vibrant salsa verde and borlotti beans, or braised rabbit in a heady rosemary and tomato stew. There’s also a St James’ outpost of the restaurant and a Bermondsey location, too, but head for the Covent Garden spot and drop by the next-door pastificio for some homemade pasta to take home.
Ciao Bella in Bloomsbury embodies everything there is to love about a proper, old-school Italian restaurant. Step through the door to find an organised chaos of families crowded around tables, waiters weaving around the room with plates held high. Downstairs, rows of tables are packed into the room and packets of breadsticks await diners in their place settings. Snack on generous lumps of salty parmesan and sip robust chianti while deciding between spaghetti with clams or meatballs — pasta has the perfect al dente bite here. Or, there’s simply dressed grilled dover sole, and breaded, fried veal escalope, tangy with lemon. Take an after-dinner espresso out on the Lambs Conduit Street terrace, under glowing heaters.
It would be a mistake to classify Polpo founder Russell Norman’s new restaurant, on Farringdon’s Greenhill Rents, as a Tuscan nostalgia trip. Yes, bistecca alla Fiorentina is charred on the grill bars, flames licking up, before being served unadorned. Yes, chicken liver crostini; pasta e fagioli; red-and-white gingham tablecloths and Parmesan spooned from metal bowls. Yes, billowing tiramisu. Yes, plentiful Negronis; a stand-up bar where the coffee is cheaper than sitting down. But this is a London dining room that feels like it’s been around forever, not stuck in an endless Italian past.
Younger sibling to The Clove Club in Shoreditch, Luca is just as understatedly elegant. This quietly glamorous Clerkenwell restaurant serves ‘Britalian’ dishes — Italian food mostly using British produce. First things first, order a portion of the crispy parmesan fries, and don’t share. Dishes move with the time of year: it’s always worth trying whichever pasta is paired with the seasonal pesto. It won’t be traditional — think pistachio and spinach or kale and chilli — but don’t fear change. Then there are dishes made for comfort: tender ox cheek with lemon polenta, Hebridean lamb with bagna cauda, or a wedge of glazed, roasted Delica pumpkin with chestnuts and buttered onions.
A sleek, chic dining room in Islington sets the scene for Trullo’s unfussy Italian food. Dishes take the best of seasonal British produce and spin it into great antipasti, fantastic pastas, and secondi fresh from the charcoal grill. Skip the queues at Padella, the fresh pasta spot in Borough Market, and enjoy the signature beef shin pappardelle or pici cacio e pepe at a slower pace. There’s also ever so smoky aubergine parmigiana and hearty Black Hampshire pork chop with salsa verde on a bed of polenta. The accessible wine list is fantastic.
Chris Leach (formerly Sager + Wilde) and Smokestak’s David Carter have moved in to Shoreditch after a long stint in Soho. To go with top antipasti, including a new pig skin ragu with pig skin double banker, there’s a carousel of pasta plates. There’s usually something stuffed, perhaps with pumpkin or mushroom, and ribbons of pappardelle tossed through ox cheek or duck ragù to go with delicate tortellini bobbing in brodo. But there’s almost always the outrageous brown crab cacio e pepe — order it or regret it.
With a Trullo alumnus behind the stove and an ex-Barrafina and Koya City general manager on the floor, Legare has a short but sweet menu from which to pick and mix snacks, antipasti and pastas. Build a world-beating ham sandwich with gnocchi fritti and mortadella; dive into tajarin drenched in butter and sage; and eat those greens in the form of baby gem lettuce drizzled with gorgonzola, sharp pickled shallot, and crunchy pangrattato.
A bright, white room, a short simple menu and rustic Italian food: that’s Artusi in Peckham. Dishes can change throughout the week, depending what produce is at its best, and pasta is handmade daily at the charming neighbourhood joint. Expect pasta e fagioli or ribbons of chestnut tagliatelle and secondi like bream with peperonata or bavette with pumpkin. Don’t miss the incredible set Sunday lunch: primi, secondi and dolci for a steal at £25. The Artusi crew are also behind the brilliant Marcella, in Deptford.
A stone’s throw from Hackney and Columbia Roads, Campania serves Italian food with a southern accent. The rustic warren of three dining rooms — including one particularly gorgeous covered courtyard — scattered with wooden furniture and candles stuck in empty wine bottles sets the stage. Homemade pasta is what does best here. Plump gnudi in sage butter, rich lamb ragù in a tangle of green pappardelle, and a tumble of tagliatelle alla vongole. Save room for the fluffy, boozy tiramisu.
This chilled-out spot sits above a canal itself, but resides in Hackney. The wine list is excellent so get into the bacaro spirit and stop by for a glass and cicchetti like scarlet prawns and crostini. Staying for a plate of homemade pasta which shows off seasonal British ingredients is also highly recommended. Cornish crab is tangled through tagliolini, plump ravioli are stuffed with pumpkin, and porcini is given a starring role with tagliatelle. Make sure to get a crisp cannolo before departure.