Pizza, pasta, burrata, parmigiana, bruschetta, tiramisù, panna cotta, cannoli – there’s no food like Italian food. While some of us were privileged enough to gallivant across the air bridge to Italy itself in late 2020, others wouldn’t have been so lucky. But although the entire population is deserving of a holiday, good – if not great – Italian food is still available in London.
Some mavericks might even declare that this is in fact the better way of doing things. Yes, the best Italian food is found in Italy, but when you’re in Italy you grow accustomed to eating so much of it that its glory becomes – almost underwhelmingly – homogenous. All of a sudden, you have no idea where the antipasti began and the secondi ended. You don’t even want to think about sfizi or dolci, though you could probably make room for a limoncello. But if what you’re consuming on a daily basis are variations on a theme of toast, cold tap water and digestive biscuits, Italian food is an oasis.
So what are the best Italian restaurants in London? From the South to the East and beyond, we’ve gathered just a few of our favourites here – and we’ll be updating it constantly. Buon appetito!
It’s hard to know what to say about Circolo Popolare. Not because it’s disappointing, but because it’s the sort of place where mouths are permanently agape and rendered speechless. There’s cacio e pepe served directly from a pecorino wheel. More instances of truffle than we care to mention. Desserts – such as a lemon meringue pie standing at almost six inches – that are rightfully described as both ‘scandalous’ and ‘incomparable’. And, with 20,000 bottles lining the walls and a mass of flowers and twinkling lights hanging from the rafters, it’s a feast for Instagram too.
40-41 Rathbone Place, W1T 1HX
In relationships, one thing we value in particular is honesty. This might explain our deep affection for Bocca di Lupo, an Italian restaurant serving honest regional cuisine to a level of perfection that is entirely without pomp. There, everything that can be made in-house is made with love, while everything that can’t is sourced with discernment from Italy itself. Although the menu changes weekly in accordance with what seasonal produce is available, it would be a grave error to go without trying the stuffed courgette flowers and – when the weather is hot – the blood orange granita with almonds and mint. However, should you not wish to leave the house, their restaurant meal kits are predictably just as fabulous as the food prepared in situ.
12 Archer Street, W1D 7BB
While Cinquecento is principally known for its pizzas, they’re not the only reason to eat there. In fact, given the range of bruschetta and ‘fritti’ (by which we mean ‘fried things’) on offer beforehand, any residual hunger after the demise of appetizers and starters is somewhat of a feat. But, since the pizza itself is so tempting, it’s an achievable one. After all, denying yourself pizza is a difficult task at the best of times, but when that pizza – as is the case with the Burrata and the Romagnola – is topped with a ball of burrata, it becomes impossible. After this point, it also becomes rude not to get dessert. Our favourite tends to be the tiramisù.
115 Notting Hill Gate, W11 3LB
233 PORTOBELLO ROAD, W11 1LT
1 CALE STREET, SW3 3QT
Could anything called ‘Gloria’ be as glorious as the Laura Branigan song of the same name? Well, yes: Gloria the trattoria in Shoreditch. We love this Italian restaurant aesthetically for its mirrored ceiling and marble bar, but the food is where it really gleams. A sibling of the aforementioned Circolo Popolare, it shares many of the same dishes – and utilisation of the Big Mamma restaurants' payment app Sunday – with a few crucial differences. It’s carbonara, not cacio e pepe, that’s served directly from a wheel of pecorino, for example. And it boasts the addition of ‘Duo Lipa’, a plate of raviolo stuffed with pesto and four cheeses alongside crispy leeks and confit tomatoes. Glorious indeed.
54-56 Great Eastern Street, EC2A 3QR
Opened in 2014, Artusi is a Peckham institution and just one of the culinary wonders in the neighbourhood. Describing itself as ‘Italian-inspired’, its stringent use of the best seasonal produce available ensures a menu that is simple but ever-changing – and it always features pasta made on the day. On that note, we’re desperate to try the spaghetti with figs and guanciale, but we can’t decide whether to have it as a starter or a main. Could you give us a few more minutes?
161 Bellenden Road, SE15 4DH
Dimly lit and comfortably cosy, Campania is quite possibly one of the most romantic restaurants we’ve ever had the pleasure of dining in. It’s the sort of place you’d pop into – laden with flowers from nearby Columbia Road – on the arm of someone (at least at that time) very special. Due to its popularity, however, we’d probably recommend booking instead. The menu changes a lot, but the seafood pasta contains just the right amount of shellfish to ensure your satisfaction without making the task of shelling too laborious. And when you’re done, you’ll see how divine the dishes themselves are – wouldn't it be nice to have some of these in your own home, you think, but the food will never be as good, you lament.
23 Ezra Street, E2 7RH
Rumour has it that DJ Peggy Gou is partial to Luca, but with food that delicious – and an atmosphere you feel smug to be a part of – who can blame her? Situated in the heart of Clerkenwell, Luca serves – as they say so themselves on their website – ‘food that observes the established traditions of Italian cooking, but breaks the rules a little’. This, of course, is right up our street – a street strewn with parmesan fries, vitello tonnato with red onion, agnolotti cacio e pepe and the rest. The halibut is from Cornwall; the lamb is Hebridean. The shrimps? Morecambe Bay. But wherever the British seasonal produce is from, what really matters is where it’s going – and that’s straight into our mouths.
88 St John Street, EC1M 4EH
While there’s no obligation to, you’ll get the best out of Popolo if you’re willing to share. Cooking small plates of Italian-inspired food with Middle Eastern and Moorish influences, Popolo complements the bustle of Shoreditch more than sufficiently. The pasta is freshly hand rolled and the seafood is as sustainable as the vegetables are seasonal, but – entirely natural and low intervention – the wine is also worth sampling. Although whether you're into wine or not, we’d do something very untoward for some of their crispy olives – served with labneh and dukkah – right now.
26 Rivington Street, EC2A 3DU
Header image | BIG MAMMA