Clean-eating brigade look away now. Pasta and pizza are back, and better than ever before, now that a new wave of authentic, regional Italian restaurants have opened up across the UK. Let olive be your carb guide
Italian restaurants in the UK are enjoying a renaissance as chefs and restaurateurs go back to their roots. Using traditional recipes from regional Italy and the best imported ingredients, as well as, of course, great British produce, these Britalians are breaking the mould. Pasta is officially cool again.
Rolling pasta, making fresh pizza dough and churning ice cream, here we have listed some of our best Italian restaurants so far this year in the UK. You’ll find seasonal dishes such as spaghettini with Morecambe Bay shrimp at Luca, pappardelle with beef shin at Padella and crispy pork belly at Pasta Loco, in Bristol.
Located in St Anne’s Square in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, Coppi takes its inspiration from all regions of Italy, but when it comes to ingredients the kitchen looks to producers in Northern Ireland. “We work closely with local suppliers including award-winning farmer Peter Hannan – two of our signature dishes are Peter’s Tuscan spiced pork and fennel sausage cichetti and a steak florentine of salt-aged beef,” says Coppi’s Tony O’Neill.
“The pasta we serve is freshly made daily in our production kitchen and the duckragu, porcini mushroomravioli and truffle has been on the menu from day one, along with our cichetti of feta fritters with truffled honey. I think there could be a riot if we tried to take them off the menu.”
With just 20 covers at a counter looking into an open kitchen and bar in Brighton’s North Laine, Cin Cin (‘cheers!’ in Italian) is an intimate, casual dining experience and the food is truly authentic.
“I’m simply trying to give customers the food I was lucky enough to grow up with,” says owner David Toscano, who started the business as a pop-up serving food and drink from a converted 1970s Fiat campervan.
“My grandparents migrated from Calabria in southern Italy to Australia in the 1950s,” says David. “And the food we offer is an updated homage to the flavour combinations I enjoyed as a kid.” Sicilian-style dishes on offer include tagliatelle with sardines, saffron and pickled sultanas, and handkerchief-shaped fazzoletti pasta served with grey mullet, sprouting broccoli and stracciatella cheese.
Specialising in southern Italian cuisine, Sugo opened in the summer of 2015 and co-owner Michael De Martiis says part of its success is the fact it’s about as far from a clichéd Italian restaurant as you can find.
“We were sick of Italian food being misrepresented in the UK and with our half-English, half-Italian upbringing and heritage, we were confident we could open a restaurant we would personally love to visit.”
From its short menu, standout dishes include orecchiette pasta with slow-cooked beef shin, pork shoulder and ’nduja ragu and the “only to be eaten with a spoon” sharing dish sugo scoglio comprising cavatelli pasta with king prawns, baby squid, mussels, cherry tomatoes, chilli and ginger.
Mike says: “We’re hugely proud of our southern Italian roots and we’re not remotely interested in appeasing the British palate. For us it’s far more about us cooking what we love and our customers trust our judgement.”
It’s been open only a year but Pasta Loco has become so well loved with locals that there’s a two-month waiting list for weekend tables. The first venture for cousins Ben Harvey and Dominic Borel, this compact restaurant is Bristol’s first fresh pasta house and has quickly become the place to go for signature dishes like linguine carbonara, which is twist on the classic, if much maligned, recipe.
With three days of preparation involved and three styles of pork – crumbled salsiccia, crispy pork belly and a pancetta-wrapped poached egg – word soon got around about the dish via social media and it’s been on the menu ever since.
The pair have also become well known for their negroni – it’s so good that Dominic has to make a vat to keep up with demand.
Pasta Ripiena is the second opening in two years from Bristol cousins Dominic Borel and Ben Harvey, who have built up a considerable following in their city since launching the original Pasta Loco.
At the smaller Pasta Ripiena, Ben’s brother Joe and his team change the menu every fortnight, developing new dishes and testing the elements of each one for a week before putting them on the menu.
To keep things seasonal, the restaurant gets two weekly deliveries from the Milan fruit and vegetable market. This produce ends up in a range of dishes, particularly stuffed pasta, which is made on site every day. Typical main courses include tortellini of salt marsh lamb, artichoke barigoule, pancetta and ricotta salata, and ravioli of beef shin ragu, crispy coppa, chard and pedro ximénez.
Dominic says: “You’ll find Joe rolling five different styles of stuffed pasta between the end of lunch service and dinner – the PX sherry jus on the beef ragu is sticky, sweet, rich and just plain naughty!”
Nonna’s polpette and spaghetti; rabbit, pancetta, white wine and potatoes; and almond and raspberry polenta cake – these are just three reasons why locals flock to Zucco, tucked away in one of the leafier suburbs of Leeds.
Run by brothers Rosario and Michael Leggiero, it’s a cool and contemporary place with black and white floor tiles, white subway wall tiles and a beaten tin ceiling.
And if that look sounds slightly familiar to fans of a certain well-known chain, then it won’t come as too much of a surprise that Michael was manager at Polpo’s short-lived restaurant at Leeds Harvey Nichols.
What started as an Italian grocer shop in Glasgow’s East End back in 1975 has grown and expanded with a restaurant/deli in the city’s West End showcasing regional, seasonal dishes, such as burrata, pea gazpacho and vignarola salad.
Eusebi goes to great lengths to source the very best ingredients – tomatoes and herbs from Calabria, flour from Rome, cured meats from Umbria. The pasta is made from scratch daily in the restaurant’s ‘pasta laboratory’ using different flours, including chickpea, chestnut and grano arso (burnt grain).
“We wanted to take the customer out of their comfort zone,” says Giovanna Eusebi. “Italy is more than carbonara and spag bol. Our food is inspired by our Italian grandparents who farmed from land to table.
Our concept was to slow things down and return to our heritage. Food made in factories and sold under the guise of ‘artisan’ just won’t wash anymore. People don’t want watered-down versions of authentic, they want the real deal.”
Nick Levantis and Darryl Healy opened new Italian restaurant-with-rooms Amano this summer in a refurbished Grade-II building in the heart of Kent market town West Malling.
Using high-end Italian ingredients and Kentish produce including meat and game from local farms, Fabio Moschini does exactly what well-mannered boys from Rome do when they become chefs – he cooks simple and robust recipes learnt from his grandmother. That includes spaghetti carbonara made with guanciale; pea risotto; and crumbed chicken escalope with a green bean salad.
But what makes this Italian restaurant that little bit different is the added bonus of four boutique guest bedrooms upstairs, each named after Italian actresses and singers – Francesca, Isabella, Carla and Sophia. All the more reason to order that second bottle of vino.
Self-taught chef Calvin Kitchin started out as a joiner working for his dad’s building firm, but he is now officially recognised as one of the world’s leading makers of Neapolitan pizzas. Calvin runs Cal’s Own pizzeria in Newcastle’s Jesmond district. He is the first British chef to get accreditation from the Naples-based Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN), a designation given only
He is the first British chef to get accreditation from the Naples-based Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN), a designation given only to pizzerias using certain Italian ingredients, approved equipment and traditional pizza-making methods.
Cal’s pizzas feature fiordilatte (fresh cow’s milk mozzarella) and San Marzano DOP tomatoes grown in the foothills of Mount Vesuvius. He says: “I started making pizzas because I couldn’t get a good pizza locally. ”
I’d been to Sorrento as a kid and I remember having a Neapolitan pizza and it was completely different. I researched it on YouTube and discovered a film about Totonno’s, a pizzeria in New York, and that was it. We now have American and Italian customers who say our pizza is better than anything they have in Brooklyn or Naples.”
As an award-winning chef running three restaurants, Peter Sanchez-Iglesias is used to hard graft, but even he admits that opening a pizzeria has been his biggest challenge, albeit a successful one. Sandwiched between his Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant Casamia, and the newly opened
Paco Tapas tapas bar named after his Spanish dad, Pi Shop is a family-friendly pizzeria on Bristol’s harbourside.
As you might expect from a team with such a stellar background, the sourdough pizzas are made with the same care and attention, whether it’s the Hawaiian with pineapple and Iberico ham or the pizza topped with Wye Valley asparagus, taleggio, ewe’s curd and rocket.
“People think it’s easy to open a pizzeria but it isn’t and there have been times I wondered why I did this,” says Peter. “But then I look out of the kitchen and see families with kids having fun, watching pizzas being made and I realise that’s exactly the reason we opened Pi Shop in the first place.”
Known as Little Italy, the Ancoats area of Manchester has a long food tradition stretching back to the Victorian era when thousands of Italian immigrants settled there, many of them starting their own ice-cream businesses.
Relocating to Ancoats from London, Jim Morgan and girlfriend Kate Wilson opened Rudy’s in 2015, with the simple idea of bringing high-quality Neapolitan pizza to Manchester in a relaxed, casual space that was affordable and accessible to all.
Named after the couple’s dog, Rudy’s now serves a dozen pizzas, from a sub-£5 marinara (tomato, garlic, oregano, basil and extra-virgin olive oil) to the romagnola (a margherita dressed with rocket, prosciutto crudo and parmesan). Says Jim: “What makes our pizzas stand out are two of the things that really stand out when you eat pizza in Naples – size and cost. Ours are big (14in), just like in Naples, but most UK pizzerias seem to reduce what is the traditional size found in Naples, possibly as a cost- cutting exercise.
We’re also much cheaper in comparison to most pizzerias, even though we use the best ingredients we can lay our hands on.”
Harry Ryder and his Italian wife Simona met when they worked in London restaurants, but it wasn’t until Harry visited Simona’s family in Campania that he realised the Italian food he had tasted in the UK wasn’t anything like the real thing.
“I tried her family’s tomato sauce, the pasta, the cheeses, wines and oil – I’d never tasted anything like it. I joked that we should start bringing it back to the UK, and that’s what we’ve done with Bottega Caruso.”
This small Italian kitchen and shop started out as a pop-up stall at The Goods Shed in Canterbury, selling fresh pasta and Simona’s family sauces. The duo then started doing supper clubs at other people’s homes, before getting a permanent space in Margate and opening in January 2018.
Popular dishes on the menu include verdura e fagioli – a slow-cooked stew of greens, organic beans and smoked chilli – and handmade cavatelli pasta with a meaty Neapolitan ragu comprising slow-cooked beef shin, top rib, pork belly, pork rump, fennel sausages, meatballs and Simona’s family tomato sauce.
“Our cooking is inspired by my grandparents’ cuisine,” says Simona. “It’s peasant food, simple but made with good ingredients, plenty of time and love.”
Bottega Caruso, which is open four days a week so that Harry and Simona can spend time with their young son, also hosts a monthly familystyle supper club where guests eat several sharing courses together.
Harry says: “A lot of the dishes lend themselves to this style of eating. People love it – rather than everyone eating something different, you can eat like a family, course after course. That’s how we want our restaurant to be; like you’re coming to our home to eat with us.”
What started out in Leeds two years ago has spread south, with Wolf sites now in Reading and London. Manchester and Nottingham are next. It’s on-the-go Italian street food made using predominantly British ingredients, including pasta bowls, salads and piadas (founder Tim Entwistle describes the latter as being “like Italian burritos”).
“We use a piadina flatbread, which is heated on our hot stone, brushed with olive oil and garlic, then filled with marinated meats such as lemon chicken or spicy Italian sausage.”
The twist is that the piadas are then stuffed with some spaghettini, drizzled with hot sauce or freshly made pesto and finished with fresh vegetables, then wrapped up like a burrito.
“Our customers love it – they can tailor them to suit their tastes, whether they want classic Italian with basil pesto and lemon and rosemary chicken; or something different, such as steak and cheesy alfredo sauce. The combinations are endless.”
“Italian with a Scottish heart beating within” is the passionate maxim used by husbandand-wife team Daniele and Gayle Tuveri, who opened La Piuma in Bathgate in 2017.
The couple, along with head chef Stefano, use as much Scottish produce as possible to create Italian-influenced dishes such as ravioli filled with purple potatoes and stracchino cheese, with rabbit ragu; and Scottish salmon with bitter herbs, carrots, hazelnuts and sorrel.
Daniele says: “We never wanted to settle for being ‘another restaurant’ and instead wanted to create something special. To begin with, people were sceptical about what we are doing here – the fact that we don’t serve pizza and lasagne was mindboggling to some.
The dishes are created on the basis that people can’t achieve the same results at home. We’ve served a beetroot risotto with ice cream made from Alex James’s Blue Murder cheese, which really shocked people, but the brave customers who ordered it said it was amazing.”
Tim Siadatan and Jordan Frieda, the duo behind Trullo in Highbury, opened their second restaurant, Padella, in Borough Market in March 2016. Padella’s menu is made up of eight pasta dishes taken from Trullo’s ‘greatest hits’, using fresh pasta rolled in the window of the restaurant just before service.
A small, no-bookings restaurant where queues are a given, Padella was born of a desire to make fresh handmade pasta accessible to everybody, with prices ranging from £5.50 to £11.50. The open kitchen combines traditional Italian techniques and quality British produce to make dishes like pappardelle and eight-hour beef shin ragu, tagliarini with brown shrimps, green and yellow courgette, and its now famous pici cacio e pepe (find the recipe at olivemagazine.com).
Jordan says: “We wanted to create a restaurant that was true to the principles we admired in the great British restaurants – rigorous seasonality with a focus on using British producers wherever possible. We make everything in-house – rolling pasta, baking our bread, churning our ice cream – every day, and do it at a price that isn’t exclusive.”
Opening a contemporary Italian restaurant was a natural step for Wolf owner Antony Difrancesco, who was born in London to Sicilian parents.
Seasonal dishes include fazzoletti with sheep ricotta, broad beans, peas, lemon and mint, and breaded veal chop with brown butter capers, anchovy and lemon. Antony says: “The great thing about the renaissance of Italian food is that chefs are applying new techniques and other influences to make them their own.”
“Many people have said the view from our restaurant resembles the coast of southern Italy,” says Andrew Macleod, owner of Emilia’s in St Katharine Docks. After developing the concept, Andrew joined forces with pasta chef Simone Stagnitto to create the menus for this rustic pasta bar.
The pasta is made daily on site and the concise menu features just seven pasta dishes. Recipes include a northern Italian-style carbonara and four-hour slow-cooked béchamelbolognese.
Hot new Islington restaurant Radici is the latest venture from Italian chef Francesco Mazzei, who also oversees Sartoria in Mayfair. More of a neighbourhood trattoria than its Savile Row sibling, Radici’s menu incorporates dishes such as seafood fettuccine and calf’s liver involtino with pancetta, garlic and rosemary served with smoked potato mash.
“I would call Radici a ‘refreshed old-school Italian’,” says Francesco. “We’re true to who we are.”
“Someone said to me, you mean ‘Britalian, like the River Café’ – I liked that,” smiles chef Isaac McHale when asked to describe the high-end food at Luca, which features such dishes as montgomery cheddar fonduta and spaghettini with Morecambe Bay shrimp and mace butter.
“We are just happy doing our thing, making it tasty and cooking with an Italian mindfulness of simplicity,” says Isaac. Don’t leave without ordering the light-as-air churro-like parmesan fries.
“We are just happy doing our thing, making it tasty and cooking with an Italian mindfulness of simplicity,” says Isaac. Don’t leave without ordering the light-as-air churro-like parmesan fries.
Having lived, worked and even celebrated their wedding on the Amalfi Coast, it had always been a dream of Robin and Sarah Gill (of The Dairy in Clapham) to open an Italian restaurant. After a trip to Italy, co-owner Dean Parker – who worked in one of Robin and Sarah’s favourite restaurants while out there – fell in love with the idea, too. And so, The Dairy’s sibling restaurant, Sorella (meaning ‘sister’), was born in early 2018.
The menu takes a traditional format but is also hugely influenced by the produce from the group’s own farm. As with The Dairy, there is still a focus on methods such as fermentation, and Dean oversees the bread – including semolina sourdough.
The menu starts with cicchetti and antipasti such as fried olives, fennel salumi and truffle arancini. Primi includes cuttlefish linguine with black olives and peppers, gnocchi with wild mushrooms and asparagus, and a seasonal ragu.
Secondi are served using whole cuts from rare breeds or fish from Cornwall. For dolci, there’s Pump Street chocolate with fennel gelato, a seasonal panna cotta and a malted barley affogato with vodka milk.
Drinks are a big focus, with the group’s Dan Joines creating a homemade vermouth. “The vermouth is an essential ingredient in the cocktails we serve,” says Dan. “Making our own has been a passion project for the past three years and now it’s complete. In summer it’s light and fresh, but we also make a deeper, sweeter one (great in a negroni) for winter.”
In a nutshell: An intimate 40-cover restaurant just off Hoxton Square focusing on food and wine from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.
What’s the vibe: Dark and intimate, wood-panelled walls are warmed up by low-hanging lights and marble surfaces, and a mirrored wall on one side of the restaurant gives the appearance of more space.
What’s the food like? Lightly fried, pillowy gnocco fritto are best torn apart and spread generously with squacquerone – a mild, creamy soft cheese from the Cesena region which we polished off swiftly. Wafer-thin slithers of peppery salame felino, prosciutto crudo and silky coppa made for a moreish salty snack.
Delicate al dente parcels of ravioli were filled with creamy ricotta, earthy spinach and soaked in a rich sage butter sauce (that we’d have happily welcomed more of) before being topped generously with parmesan.
Dessert is an easy decision to make, either order the tiramisu or don’t. It’s a light way to finish the meal as the serving is small, with the classic creamy, coffee soaked texture and cocoa flavour you’d expect.
And the drink? As with the food, the wine list focuses on those made in the region, with a large section dedicated to red and white sparkling. Our waiter suggested a red sparkling lambrusco from the coastal city of Reggio which was fruity yet crisp. A refreshing fizz to wash down a plate of hearty bolognese with.
olive says: Although the menu is split into starters and mains, all of the dishes work best shared as a table.
In a nutshell: Authentic Roman cooking in an intimate setting in Knightsbridge.
What’s the vibe: A small, softly lit space, the décor keeps it simple with plain wooden flooring and furniture, earth-hued walls and little copper lamps that shine inviting pools of light over each table. Pots of vivid green basil adorn each table and a wall-to-wall wine rack provides a focal point at one end of the room. The effect is intimate, unpretentious but still tastefully sleek – it is Knightsbridge, after all.
What’s the food like? Four fat, handmade gnocchi were the stars of our antipasti. Pleasingly fluffy, they came drizzled with a decadent, moreish black truffle and pecorino sauce. Well-made rice croquettes, with a crisp exterior and meaty ragu filling, were complemented by a tangy tomato velouté.
Spaghetti carbonara, that iconic Roman dish, was note perfect, with a silky properly emulsified sauce. Tonnarelli with artichokes and red prawns combined juicy crustacean with dried shards of artichokes and a bisque-like sauce.
Lamb chops – served with ultra-smooth mashed potatoes and crispy leeks – were pink, tender and deeply flavoured.
And the drink? The concise wine list keeps it almost entirely Italian, of course. We tried a subtly smoky sangiovese and montepulciano blend, and a fruity ripasso.
olive says: Service is very good: friendly and knowledgeable general manager Diego made us feel like we were being really looked after.
In a nutshell: Chef Stevie Parle’s latest venture brings handmade pasta and affordable wines to Soho.
What’s the vibe: A cavernous Tom Dixon-designed space on Ganton Street that’s all high ceilings and exposed fittings, with a huge, colourful mural (by Rob Lowe of Supermundane) that saves the room from feeling coldly industrial.
What’s the food like? From the pasta section, malloreddus (tiny, ridged Sardinian gnocchi) came dressed with a slow-cooked sausage sauce that was elegantly light and flavourful, while agnoli stuffed with grouse, pork and rabbit was a deceptively simple dish that made good use of prime autumn produce.
From the pasta section, malloreddus (tiny, ridged Sardinian gnocchi) came dressed with a slow-cooked sausage sauce that was elegantly light and flavourful, while agnoli stuffed with grouse, pork and rabbit was a deceptively simple dish that made good use of prime autumn produce.
And the drink? The drinks offering at Pastaio is short and affordable, ranging from prosecco and Aperol slushies to wines from lesser-known Italian growers, many priced by the glass. We tried a velvety, smoky refosco – a spot-on recommendation from our friendly, knowledgeable waiter.
olive says: Be sure to order the agnoli – a triumph of pared-back cooking; perfectly cooked and crafted pasta, a generous game filling and a seriously moreish sage-butter sauce.
In a nutshell: Calabrian chef Francesco Mazzei launches his third restaurant in partnership with D&D London in Circus West Village, the first phase of the new Battersea Power Station development in south London.
What’s the vibe: The restaurant’s décor reflects the menu – it’s smart but relaxed. There’s counter dining and high chairs by the bar for quick plates of cicchetti (fried calamari to crostini draped with mozzarella, anchovies and roasted peppers) and homemade breads from the wood-fired pizza oven. The rest of the room, framed around the open-plan kitchen, is well spaced and comfortable – an elegant palette of brass and copper accenting blue (baby and teal) leather, hugging marble and dark wooden tables.
What’s the food like? Pasta is handmade, so choosing from the primi menu is difficult – you’ll want a taste of everything. Thin, yolk-yellow strands of tagliolini are punctuated by sweet and sea-fresh flakes of white crabmeat, pepped up with flecks of Amalfi lemon zest, fresh red chilli, flat-leaf parsley and fronds of dill.
A bowl of Welsh lamb ragu fettuccine is slippery, buttery and oh so comforting – rubbles of the flavourful meat and their rich juices marrying into a moreish sauce. This is Italian pasta as it was originally intended.
And the drink? A mix of classic and contemporary, the cocktail list is like a boozy love letter to Italian spirits. A white Negroni Del Mazzei with Tanqueray gin, rosolio (rose liqueur), Cocchi Americano vermouth, and a stick of three plump Nocellara olivesslicked with booze, hit the spot for us. The wine list is also all Italian, with each region of origin clearly highlighted.
olive says: If the tiramisu sells out, order another bowl of pasta for your final course.
“I’m sure there are traditionalists out there who think I’m the devil himself, but I’d rather be knocked for trying something new than just roll out someone else’s recipes – I never saw the point in that,” says Neil Rankin, explaining his philosophy at Temper Covent Garden.
This is a restaurant that likes to push the boundaries when it comes to Italian-rooted food, from the aged beef-fat tallow and pesto ravioli to the wood-fired ‘Detroit’ pizza with its topping of goat ragu, mozzarella, London-cured Cobble Lane pepperoni and San Marzano tomatoes.
“I love traditional pizzas and pastas, but London is full of great places doing both – so I wanted to explore a different side to both and have a little fun. For me, food shouldn’t have restrictions and rules past deliciousness.”
Other standout dishes at Temper Covent Garden include the crab okonomiyaki pizza with crab, fennel, langoustine mayo, hoisin, sesame and katsuobushi.
Neil says: “Certain flavour profiles are almost set in stone, but there is always room within those borders to create something new. I like to see connections between cuisines because they’re all related and when you get an obvious crossover it’s fun to exploit that. Especially in London, which is a multicultural, mixed bag of cuisines.”
A shipping container on Brixton Station Road is now home to some of the most authentic regional Italian food in London. Owners Maria Mugnano and Alessio De Laureto focus on food from the tiny south-central Italian region of Molise.
Fried calamari is the signature dish – fresh (never frozen) squid served piping hot with a drizzle of lemon juice, or in a sandwich with caramelised red onions, grilled courgettes and aïoli.
The arrosticini are another highlight – chargrilled skewers of lamb flown in fresh every week from the mountainous Abruzzo region – while Molise’s renowned white truffles appear in a delicious porchetta sandwich and a vegetarian-friendly version with scamorza and spicy, grilled aubergine.
“We’re passionate about our culinary history and excited to share these dishes with a new audience,” says Alessio. “The idea was to bring the simplicity that we use in Termoli, the city where we come from, to London. We wanted to do things differently, but still use traditional methods.”