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The exterior of an Italian restaurant, with rattan chairs outside. The signage reads Capitan Corelli, in big blue letters, with cappuccino, pizza and pasta, takeaway written below in smaller, red letters.
Outside Capitan Corelli, the tavola calda in Battersea.
Maggie Jones/Flickr

Escalopes, Red Sauce, and Tiramisu at London’s Best Time-Honoured Italian Restaurants

The pathfinders for the capital’s contemporary buffet of regional Italian cooking

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Outside Capitan Corelli, the tavola calda in Battersea.
| Maggie Jones/Flickr

First there were the Romans, who built a settlement on the Thames with a forum, an amphitheatre, and a humongous limestone wall. Later, Italian people came and went, to paint Westminster Bridge, introduce Londoners to ice cream, and make sure Little Italy had its own ornate Catholic church. By 1953, when a Milanese salesman called Pino Riservato fired up Soho’s first Gaggia coffee machine, Italy had been woven into the capital’s fabric.

These days, everyone knows that London’s full of exceptional Italian cooking. Along with the riverside restaurant in Hammersmith and the Michelin-starred one in Marylebone, there’s a lifetime’s worth of fantastic Italian food in Soho, Ealing, Peckham, Clapham, Vauxhall, Shoreditch, Bloomsbury, Islington, Clerkenwell and so many other neighbourhoods.

But with so many modern, famous spots to choose from, it’s easy to forget how London used to eat Italian food. Thankfully, the capital still has plenty of the cosy, candlelit rooms that dish out crisp, breaded cutlets, lumps of creamy, coffee-infused sponge, and mountains of spaghetti in deep red sauce. These restaurants are less fashionable now, but they still hold a special place in many hearts.

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L Terroni & Sons

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Like Scotti’s Snack Bar, St Peter’s Church, and the 67-year-old multilingual driving school up the road, L Terroni & Sons is a beautiful remnant of Clerkenwell’s old Little Italy. It’s a surprisingly historical spot, which claims to be London’s oldest delicatessen.

But Terroni’s is hardly gathering dust. The place draws a steady crowd, who step over the prehistoric doorway mosaic to enjoy gigantic, inexpensive pizzas and pastas, all doused in a tomato sauce more lurid than a setting sun. Try the delightfully round raviolis, the squidgy gnocchi, or maybe a colossal, puffed-up calzone, then grab some cannoli and something suitably pungent from the deli counter to take home. 

Italia Uno

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Everybody loves Italia Uno, including the office types who clog its entrance on weekdays, the football fans who come to watch Serie A matches on one of its six TVs, and the delivery riders who drink espressos while their e-bike batteries charge in the corner. The food unites these people, as does the place’s homely atmosphere, which are both down to Felice, Italia Uno’s tireless, good-natured proprietor.

Felice has been assembling finely tuned sandwiches here for over two decades. His finest work includes the bondola, which balances the silky richness of mortadella with the sharpness of marinated artichoke hearts, and the picante, a surprisingly spicy sausage and pecorino number. There’s other great stuff too, like the wholesome rigatoni with meat sauce, which feels more ragu alla bolognese than spag bol.

Trevi Ristorante

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Fixed seating keeps things neat and tidy. It creates more space, makes floors easier to clean, and keeps the dining room in configuration. If Trevi Ristorante’s angular burgundy booths were installed when the place opened, then they’ve been exemplifying these benefits for 60 years.

Those magical seats are an excellent place to enjoy hearty servings of Italian food. There’s a whole host of old-school dishes on offer here, from the breaded veal to the grilled lamb liver, but the obvious choice is the bolognese, which is meaty, peppery, and as deeply savoury as a pint of soy sauce.

La Porchetta Pollo Bar

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La Porchetta Pollo Bar used to be Pollo Bar, back when it was a symphony of brown and beige, all varnished wood, antique light fixtures and nicotine-tinted murals, just like so many of Soho’s now largely extinct Italian caffs. But people lamented the old Pollo’s passing two decades ago, so it’s no use getting dewy eyed about it now.

The new restaurant’s full of life anyway. Visit outside of peak hours, when the spirited waiting staff get a chance to catch up on their arguments and the place’s amiable chef loosens his apron to work through a heap of sausage and broccoli pasta. Get what he’s having, or one of the mozzarella-heavy pizzas, which are among the cheapest in the area.

Capitan Corelli Battersea

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It may be difficult to imagine, but Capitan Corelli opened back in 1977, when the U.K. was fraught with strikes, inflation and an economic crisis. The restaurant hasn’t changed much since those days (at the time of writing, neither has the U.K.) and it wears its tumbledown charm well, dancing the line between caff and affordable restaurant.

Most locals pop in for something from behind the counter, as part of the place’s competitively priced lunchtime buffet, in the same way people do at Lewisham’s Everest Curry King and Whitechapel’s Shalamar Kebab House. The food is straightforward, homely stuff, that will leave customers neither hungry nor shortchanged. So try a chicken leg, a cuboid of lasagne, some spaghetti and meatballs, or maybe all three together.

Anacapri

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Anacapri feels less Baker Street and more Brooklyn, all tablecloths, varnished wood, and Chianti bottles in straw baskets. The place’s slender, welcoming dining room attracts a convivial, vaguely wealthy-looking crowd, including men with grey, slicked-back hair who wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Overall, it’s an extremely atmospheric place to eat.

Everyone’s here for the classics, like the veal Milanese, an elephant’s ear of an escalope that comes alive with a squeeze of lemon, and goes delightfully with mouthfuls of soft, tomatoey spaghetti. The A4 paper-sized ravioli are similarly dramatic, as are the slabs of tiramisu, which the place’s good-humoured waiters tote above their shoulders in huge trays to tempt diners after their mains.

Caprini Restaurant

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It’s easy to forget that liver is the friendliest member of the offal family: basically a soft steak, not that different from pate or an earthy hunk of butter. Almost every old-school Italian spot in London serves some sort of fegato variant, but Caprini is one of the safest bets to eat it, mainly because the place attracts a crowd that still orders it regularly.

The restaurant’s cheerful, middle-aged customer base, who come here to reminisce about holidays in Torino and get a bit pissed, appear to have been eating in Caprini since the Thatcher years. But the restaurant’s even older than its interior suggests — it opened in 1946, while London was still recovering from the Blitz. So get a plate of juicy, grill-marked organ meat, a glass of house red, and raise a toast to one of the oldest Italian restaurants in London.

L Terroni & Sons

Like Scotti’s Snack Bar, St Peter’s Church, and the 67-year-old multilingual driving school up the road, L Terroni & Sons is a beautiful remnant of Clerkenwell’s old Little Italy. It’s a surprisingly historical spot, which claims to be London’s oldest delicatessen.

But Terroni’s is hardly gathering dust. The place draws a steady crowd, who step over the prehistoric doorway mosaic to enjoy gigantic, inexpensive pizzas and pastas, all doused in a tomato sauce more lurid than a setting sun. Try the delightfully round raviolis, the squidgy gnocchi, or maybe a colossal, puffed-up calzone, then grab some cannoli and something suitably pungent from the deli counter to take home. 

Italia Uno

Everybody loves Italia Uno, including the office types who clog its entrance on weekdays, the football fans who come to watch Serie A matches on one of its six TVs, and the delivery riders who drink espressos while their e-bike batteries charge in the corner. The food unites these people, as does the place’s homely atmosphere, which are both down to Felice, Italia Uno’s tireless, good-natured proprietor.

Felice has been assembling finely tuned sandwiches here for over two decades. His finest work includes the bondola, which balances the silky richness of mortadella with the sharpness of marinated artichoke hearts, and the picante, a surprisingly spicy sausage and pecorino number. There’s other great stuff too, like the wholesome rigatoni with meat sauce, which feels more ragu alla bolognese than spag bol.

Trevi Ristorante

Fixed seating keeps things neat and tidy. It creates more space, makes floors easier to clean, and keeps the dining room in configuration. If Trevi Ristorante’s angular burgundy booths were installed when the place opened, then they’ve been exemplifying these benefits for 60 years.

Those magical seats are an excellent place to enjoy hearty servings of Italian food. There’s a whole host of old-school dishes on offer here, from the breaded veal to the grilled lamb liver, but the obvious choice is the bolognese, which is meaty, peppery, and as deeply savoury as a pint of soy sauce.

La Porchetta Pollo Bar

La Porchetta Pollo Bar used to be Pollo Bar, back when it was a symphony of brown and beige, all varnished wood, antique light fixtures and nicotine-tinted murals, just like so many of Soho’s now largely extinct Italian caffs. But people lamented the old Pollo’s passing two decades ago, so it’s no use getting dewy eyed about it now.

The new restaurant’s full of life anyway. Visit outside of peak hours, when the spirited waiting staff get a chance to catch up on their arguments and the place’s amiable chef loosens his apron to work through a heap of sausage and broccoli pasta. Get what he’s having, or one of the mozzarella-heavy pizzas, which are among the cheapest in the area.

Capitan Corelli Battersea

It may be difficult to imagine, but Capitan Corelli opened back in 1977, when the U.K. was fraught with strikes, inflation and an economic crisis. The restaurant hasn’t changed much since those days (at the time of writing, neither has the U.K.) and it wears its tumbledown charm well, dancing the line between caff and affordable restaurant.

Most locals pop in for something from behind the counter, as part of the place’s competitively priced lunchtime buffet, in the same way people do at Lewisham’s Everest Curry King and Whitechapel’s Shalamar Kebab House. The food is straightforward, homely stuff, that will leave customers neither hungry nor shortchanged. So try a chicken leg, a cuboid of lasagne, some spaghetti and meatballs, or maybe all three together.

Anacapri

Anacapri feels less Baker Street and more Brooklyn, all tablecloths, varnished wood, and Chianti bottles in straw baskets. The place’s slender, welcoming dining room attracts a convivial, vaguely wealthy-looking crowd, including men with grey, slicked-back hair who wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Overall, it’s an extremely atmospheric place to eat.

Everyone’s here for the classics, like the veal Milanese, an elephant’s ear of an escalope that comes alive with a squeeze of lemon, and goes delightfully with mouthfuls of soft, tomatoey spaghetti. The A4 paper-sized ravioli are similarly dramatic, as are the slabs of tiramisu, which the place’s good-humoured waiters tote above their shoulders in huge trays to tempt diners after their mains.

Caprini Restaurant

It’s easy to forget that liver is the friendliest member of the offal family: basically a soft steak, not that different from pate or an earthy hunk of butter. Almost every old-school Italian spot in London serves some sort of fegato variant, but Caprini is one of the safest bets to eat it, mainly because the place attracts a crowd that still orders it regularly.

The restaurant’s cheerful, middle-aged customer base, who come here to reminisce about holidays in Torino and get a bit pissed, appear to have been eating in Caprini since the Thatcher years. But the restaurant’s even older than its interior suggests — it opened in 1946, while London was still recovering from the Blitz. So get a plate of juicy, grill-marked organ meat, a glass of house red, and raise a toast to one of the oldest Italian restaurants in London.

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