Looking for an Italian restaurant in London that isn’t your average pizza or spaghetti house? 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.
Best Italian restaurants in London
Trullo, Higbury – for seasonally focussed Italian-inspired dishes
Older sister to Borough Market’s Padella, Trullo serves perfect pasta, antipasti and larger charcoal grill dishes in a romantic yet relaxed environment. Upstairs, wooden tables – simply laid with white paper tablecloths and flickering tea lights – are huddled together, while downstairs, dark booths are perfect for a longer, laid-back dinner.
The menu changes twice daily, depending on seasonal produce, but if there’s two of you we’d recommend a couple of antipasti, a couple of plates of pasta and one larger oven dish. Baskets of bread are served alongside a pot of olive oil, and you can keep asking for more but it’s better to save yourself for the pasta. Rich beef shin ragu coats slippery ribbons of pappardelle, while sweet squash ravioli gets a richness from the olive oil. If it’s on the menu, order Padella’s iconic pici cacio e pepe for a cheesy hit. Meat and fish are simply cooked over coals, served with the likes of soft polenta and salsa verde or baby beetroot.
As with the food, wines change regularly but there are always a few available by the glass. The natural Puglia Miro is bursting with ripe cherries, or sip on a punchy coffee negroni as a nightcap.
Theo’s, Camberwell – for Neapolitan pizza
Head to Theo’s in Camberwell for the best sourdough pizza in London. Its wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas are the best in South London. The Scotch Bonnet nduja is the menu must-order, as the spiced sausage is made across the road by the team at the Camberwell Arms pub.
Save room for a serving of Theo’s outrageously good tiramisu, and order a negroni bianco or espresso martini to finish. If you don’t fancy sitting in, Theo’s do delivery, so it’s up there with the best takeaway pizza in London, too.
Lina Stores, Soho – for authentic pasta and aperitivi
Lina Stores is a much-anticipated pasta, antipasti and aperitivi bar from Soho institution Lina Stores, an Italian deli that’s been the go-to for authentic produce since opening in 1944.
The white and mint striped awning makes the new restaurant easily identifiable to regulars at Lina Stores’ original green-tiled corner shop a few streets away. Pops of its signature pastels continue inside – leather bar stools at the ground-floor counter, shelves heaving with Italian liqueurs to make punchy negronis and spritzes, and striped aprons on the chefs who slice pink ribbons of prosciutto, plate up antipasti and toss handmade pasta in pans of sauce in the tiny open kitchen.
Head chef Masha Rener has kept the menu simple and seemingly authentic, with every ingredient hailing directly from Italy – from bright and buttery Cerignola olives right down to the sugar used in exemplary Italian desserts and cakes.
The antipasti menu includes silky aubergine fritters in a crunchy golden shell, crisp radicchio salad with anchovy dressing, and little bowls of almost-too-pretty-to-eat baby artichoke hearts. Start with a porchetta sandwich, served Roman-style, in a crisp ciabatta roll, stuffed with crunchy bites of golden crackling and soft, slow-cooked pork marinated in rosemary and fennel seeds. We’d return for this alone, but it’s quite filling for a starter so share, if you must.
Fresh pasta, handmade an hour before service, is given pride of place at Lina Stores, served as the main event rather than traditional pre-main primi. Bright yellow strands of pappardelle soak up light, gamey rabbit ragu, perfectly formed gnocchi is brightened up with popping peas, and a vibrant mint and courgette mixture is stuffed into little tortellini parcels. Pici alla norcina is the highlight, though – springy worms of pasta in a creamy, nutty sauce of porcini mushroom and Norcia sausage (often celebrated as the best in Italy).
Creamy lemon sorbet refreshesafter so many comforting carbs, the little half-lemon bowl a nostalgic nod to Italian holidays, and is served with a shot of limoncello to send you merrily on your way.
Luca, Clerkenwell – for high-end Italian
“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.
Maremma, Brixton – for Tuscan neighbourhood vibes
The small space of this Tuscan bistro has a distinctly neighbourhood vibe – vases of dried flowers sit on tables crammed in alongside stools at the pale sage counter overlooking the busy open kitchen and aperitif-bottle-lined bar.
Large, almost life-size illustrations of wild boar and octopus on exposed brick walls reflect dishes on the menu – the former in a hefty cut of pepper-crusted cutlet and belly with balsamic figs and wispy Italian spinach, and also combined with Tuscan herbs and fennel seeds to make a ragu tossed through glistening folds of homemade pappardelle.
The menu is dedicated to produce from the Maremma region of south-west Tuscany. Highlights of our visit were a starter of super-soft octopus neatly arranged in a bowl with crushed new potatoes, all doused in Tuscan olive oil and lemon juice. Another was the tortelli Maremmani – yolk-yellow pasta parcels stuffed with creamy ricotta, spinach and a hint of nutmeg, topped with crispy sage. Skate wing wasn’t on the menu on our visit, but we’ve heard from reliable sources it’s another standout.
Wines all come from Maremma – the brancaleta sangiovese/malvasia nera blend provides an elegant, aromatic accompaniment to the boar dishes, while chardonnay from the same vineyard is intense enough to hold up to most options on the menu. The cocktail menu also showcases spirits from the region – Seven Hills gin, infused with juniper and herbs from Maremma, is used in the negroni and a rosemary old fashioned, while the Mi-To (Milano-Torino) cocktail mixes a new Maremma-born vermouth with Corsican grapefruit aperitif, Pampelle.
Padella, Borough Market – for perfect pasta
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 (get the recipe here).
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.”
Bancone, London WC2 (Covent Garden) – for Italian counter dining
The tagline for Covent Garden’s newest Italian restaurant, just minutes from Trafalgar Square, might be “pasta, prosecco, espresso” – but it’s those first little mouthfuls of arancini from the antipasti that you’ll be raving about, come home time. Created by head chef Louis Korovilas – whose CV lists training under Giorgio Locatelli, at Locanda Locatelli, and Pied à Terre – the arancini arrive as three golden nuggets. Their crisp armour gives way to the lightest rice, still just al dente, no stodge, and bags of flavour – first (on our visit) earthy mushroom, next creamy dolcelatte, and finally saffron with a fiery heart of ’nduja.
It’s hard not to be mesmerised by the rest of the menu, though, particularly if you sit at the marble-topped, brass-trimmed bar, overlooking Louis and his team at work. Fresh pasta, which is made and rolled upstairs, is flash-boiled before being tossed with any of the 10 sauces on offer. Chitarra – guitar-string like spaghetti – is slicked with cacio e pepe and topped with a crisp, peppered cheese wafer.
Oxtail ragu (best ever ragu recipes here), slow cooked for 10 hours until sticky and sweet, clings to bouncy folds of pappardelle. Simple, quality ingredients – the bedrock of good Italian cookery – are shown proper respect. Hispi cabbage is charred and dressed with red chilli, garlic and 2017 Planeta olive oil. Chicory and beans are held up with sweet and sour onions, and a deeply savoury anchovy crumb.
Classic negronis with the right amount of chunky ice and a twist of orange are just as well received as the prosecco, and don’t leave without a palate-cleansing, retro-tastic Amalfi lemon syllabub (recipe below) and granita served in its original host. Holiday vibes for the win.
Bocca di Lupo, Soho – for regional Italian cooking
Opened in 2008. Bocca di Lupo was the first solo venture from chef Jacob Kenedy and general manager Victor Hugo. Jacob was previously head chef at Moro before moving to Boulevardin San Francisco. Bocca di Lupo showcases regional Italian cooking and wine – Jacob and Victor travelled extensively around Italy to research the restaurant’s menu and wine lists.
A long, marble-topped bar dominates the right-hand side, while the main room stretches behind. The kitchen is open and gleaming, and the tables and chairs are elegantly non-descript.
The premise is straightforward – to offer regional Italian food in tapas-sized portions. More substantial plates are available for the deeper of belly. The menu is a gustatory odyssey through Italy, from a Trentino pork and foie-gras sausage to a Sicilian tuna tartare, which manifests as a generous hillock of ruby cubes, studded with salty capers, soft pine nuts and shavings of orange peel.
Kenedy is a master at frying – producing a sublimely light crescentini (a sort of fried bread), topped with sweet speck, fennel-studded finocchiona and soft squacquerone cheese – and is equally deft when it comes to salads. A sublime blood orange, oregano and onion salad explodes in the mouth.
Fiume, Battersea – for smart southern Italian dishes
Wind around the edge of the Thames, ducking under the colourful ‘Power’ archway as you do, and in the shadow of Battersea Power Station is where you’ll find Fiume. Translating as river, the contemporary Italian sits in front of a water feature that reflects the golden hue of the recently renovated chimneys towering above.
This is Calabrian chef Francesco Mazzei’s third restaurant in partnership with D&D London. Inside, 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 menu proper focusses on the recipes of southern Italy, or Mezzogiorno, jumping around the eight different regions. Think wobbly burrata and slow-cooked octopus to start, with classic mains such as aubergine parmigiana and seafood fregola, along with a handmade pasta menu.
Angelina, Dalston – for Italian-Japanese fusion
Simple yet refined Italian-Japanese cooking is the focus at Angelina, and their dining concept is boldly simple: just a five-course sharing menu for £38.
The menu starts with elegant fish and seafood crudités: Sicilian red prawns, dusted with roasted rice powder and drizzled with olive oil, has a lusciously soft, almost creamy texture, while rich tuna belly is pepped up by a zingy blood orange dressing. Sea bream with mirin is salty-fresh.
Elsewhere, a risotto with unagi (eel), burnt soy butter and dashi is perfectly executed, the rice creamy but retaining just the right amount of bite, the fish butter-soft, while onglet steak with charred radicchio is all bitter, umami intensity.
Radici, Islington – for a refreshed old-school Italian
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.”
Pastaio, Soho – for casual pasta dinners
Chef Stevie Parle’s latest venture brings handmade pasta and affordable wines to Soho. 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.
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. 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.
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.
Osteria Romana, Knightsbridge – for Roman cooking
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.
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.
The concise wine list keeps it almost entirely Italian, of course. We tried a subtly smoky sangiovese and montepulciano blend, and a fruity ripasso.
Wolf, Stoke Newington – for contemporary Italian
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.”
Emilia’s, St Katherines Dock – for coastal Italian vibes
“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.
Cecconi’s Pizza Bar, Soho – for a fun pizza date
From the team behind Soho House, Cecconi’s Pizza Bar focuses on pizza, pasta and Aperol spritz on tap. Vintage Italian posters, black and white mosaic tiles and mahogany tables give the space a retro feel. In the summer, grab a seat on the street and spend the evening sipping on punchy negronis.
Which pizza to order at Cecconi’s Pizza Bar? The super doughy charred crust has a slightly smoky flavour, while the sloppy base is piled high with toppings. Either keep it classic with buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil, or choose one topped lavishly with parma ham, peppery rocket, mozzarella, parmesan and meltingly creamy burrata – torn apart then drizzled with olive oil. If you fancy something a little lighter, go for a pizzette instead.
What else is there to eat and drink? Crisp matchsticks of zucchini fritti with silky aioli (lifted with lemon) is the best place to start. While pizza is the focus, be sure to share a bowl of creamy spaghetti dusted with shavings of umami truffle. If you’ve saved room for dessert, the tiramisu is a must. Waiters bring large dishes to the table and serve the rich coffee-soaked dessert straight up.
Sorella, Clapham – for neighbourhood vibes
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.”
Don Luigi, Brixton – for Italian street food
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.”
Looking for inspirational Italian recipes? Check out our 27 best ever Italian recipes here
Photograph credits: Jade Nina Sarkhel (Maremma)