By MARC BURROWS, DECEMBER 2017
Mamma mia! If you’re partial to the fresh flavours of Italy, then naturally London has your back. And while there’s plenty of chain restaurants of various quality dotted around the city, from Jamie’s Italian and Carluccio’s to Pizza Express and Prezzo (those are all well and good, and we’re certainly not knocking them), dig a little deeper and you’ll find some genuinely authentic Italian cuisine.
Tozi - Victoria
The cozy and rustic feeling Tozi (that’s Venetian slang for a group of friends, you know) really does reflect its Mediterranean heritage, and there’s not a plastic table-cloth or a fake tomato in sight. This isn’t your textbook “Spaghetti Bolognaise or Carbonara” menu either, with lots lot of depth and variety: the pasta options are restricted to just a few genuinely exquisite dishes, exemplified by the buffalo ricotta ravioli. Away from the big-and-hearty options, the Venetian-style small cicchetti plates and salads, involving a delicious sounding range of cheeses, cured meats, wild mushrooms and boar salsiccia, is probably a good way to go if you’re a large group, digging in tapas-style. The restaurant recently added a range of Italian craft ales too, and naturally there’s excellent Prosecco and negronis.
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele – Stoke Newington
If it’s authenticity in your Italian food you’re after, look no further than L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele on the leafy Stoke Newington Church Street. It’s the first international branch of the Naples restaurant of the same name, established in 1906 (made famous in the movie Eat Prey Love), often said to be the best pizzeria in the world. L’Antica takes back-to-basics authenticity to an almost absurd extreme: there’s no booking system so expect to queue (up to 40 minutes on busy days) and the menu features just two items – marinara and margherita. You get a tomato sauce made with tomatoes, oregano and garlic only, on a light, thin base, with or without mozzarella. That’s it. Why would you queue for ages for so little choice? Because this is literally the best pizza in London, soft and chewy, with crisp burnt bubbles and a richly delicious topping. Those wanting pineapple or pepperoni may wish to try the Pizza Hut up the street.
London Bridge Giuseppe’s, one of London’s oldest family eateries, is very much your classic idea of an Italian restaurant. Accessed via an alley off Borough High Street, this is a buzzy, affordable, and happily cheesy night-out, with a menu stuffed with the classics. The textbook dishes tend to be the anglicised versions (some Italian chefs would throw you out the kitchen door for adding cream to a carbonara, but they don’t turn their nose up here), and they’re hearty and satisfying. The pasta has a beautiful bite and the sauces are rich and silky. The house specialities, especially the wild boar pasta, are worth investigating too. It’s the atmosphere that makes Giuseppe’s worth a visit though – it’s always bustling, the wine list delivers and there’s something that just feels right about eating your meal while you’re serenaded with Rat Pack classics by the in-house singer. It’s fantastic for parties too.
Villa di Geggiano Chiswick
A little slice of Tuscany in Chiswick, Villa di Geggiano has a wine list to kill for. There are reds here you won’t find elsewhere in London, shipped over from the 15th century vineyard of the same name in Chianti. Like the wine, many of the ingredients are direct from Tuscany, which makes the menu really sing. The Pappardelle Al Cinghiale (pasta with Tuscan boar) is a firm favourite, and the chocolate mousse with mango and red chilli is beautiful. The setting does its best to recreate a Tuscan villa, and the nearby Metropolis studios mean you might see the odd pop star popping in for a cocktail.
Why are we suggesting a nationwide chain in a list of London’s best Italian restaurants? While the menu (which is pretty serviceable) isn’t as lovingly crafted and authentic as many more authentic establishments, Zizzi have developed one key and important feature that raises them above their chain-competition: Alternative menus for vegans or people with intolerances. You can ask for the vegetarian, vegan, non-dairy, non-gluten or low-calorie menus and unlike most restaurants there’s a decent selection for all of them. Their gluten-free pizza bases are crisp and tasty, the vegan lentil ragu is delicious and the GF sticky-toffee and praline torte is gorgeous. Obviously there are better dedicated vegan or GF restaurants across the city, just as there are plenty of better Italian ones, but for a mixed party with a variety of dietary requirement this really is the business. Hopefully other establishments will start to follow Zizzi’s lead soon.