The Best Italian Restaurants In London
Where to eat antipasti and pappardelle that will make you weep with joy.
For all the Sacla pesto jars emptied throughout your lifetime and all the troughs of Marmite pasta that have seen you through self-inflicted emotional and physical trauma, you just can’t say no to a big ball of burrata and a saucy bowl of something handmade, can you? We know this because we’re the same. Italian restaurants are 10 a penny in London and settling for a bog-standard ragu can feel like a cop out, but with this list that will never happen. From Tuscan trattorias to nonna-ruled kitchens, these are London’s best Italian restaurants.
photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
A bowl of cacio e pepe can’t take singing lessons, it can’t dabble in DJing, and it definitely can’t go on Love Island. It’s hard for a cacio e pepe to become famous but somehow the brown crab version at Manteca has done it. The mega-rich golden bowl of tonnarelli has had a serious rep since Manteca’s Soho residency. These days, the restaurant’s permanent Shoreditch location also serves razor-thin prosciutto and duck fat pangrattato on top of ragu, and has a carved pig face hanging out front—in case you didn’t catch on to the nose-to-tail thing going on here. The spot is comforting meets creative cool, and perfect for a stylish evening with friends or a Shoreditch date night that definitely doesn’t involve a ball pit.
A decent chunk of north London goes all misty-eyed at the mention of Trullo. Who knew that an elegant Tuscan trattoria with white tablecloths, a loose atmosphere, and handmade tagliarini would be such a hit when it first opened in 2010? Well, head chef Tim Siadatan did. He also opened some pasta place called Padella, but Trullo is the one for us. Whether you come in for a plate of pappardelle or for a boisterous get-together with pork chops, polenta, and all, Trullo can turn anything into an occasion.
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La Mia Mamma
Cacio e pepe, take the wheel. This simple but deeply satisfying pasta dish is always on our order at this homely Italian in Chelsea, that just so happens to be run by a troupe of deeply fabulous Italian chefs known as ‘the mammas’. Although some classics remain, most of the menu changes every few months as a new mamma takes the mic and cooks food from a different region of Italy. So a trip to La Mia Mamma is a great way to experience Italian cuisine outside the parameters of spag bol and tiramisu. A restaurant that truly has our hearts due its joyous family feel, it’s the perfect spot for everything from a knees-up birthday to a good-value weeknight meal when you’re in desperate need of a heavy dose of carbs.
The first thing you need to know about this XXL trattoria is that it is a Silly Restaurant. It’s loud, it’s proud, and as soon as you enter the double doors on Henrietta Street you’re at the mercy of a 300-seat restaurant that operates as a x_LIMONCELLO GLOW_x Instagram filter. But beneath the truffle, big boozy cocktails, and pun-tastic dish names, this place serves expert mafaldine and huge hand-stretched pizzas topped with quality parmigiano fondue. At times it’s a little bit daft but for feelgood glamour and a tower of stracciatella gelato, it can’t be beaten.
We try not to make a habit of infuriating caveats but this one is unavoidable. Ciao Bella doesn’t make fantastic Italian food but it’s probably the best Italian restaurant in London. The old-school institution on Lamb’s Conduit Street is the Italian restaurant of every 10 year-olds’ dreams. Loud and proud, sloppy and full of spaghetti. To quote ourselves, which is another unfortunate habit, “If you leave Ciao Bella analysing your spaghetti con polpette, then something has gone very wrong. This restaurant is so much more valuable than a bowl of perfect handmade pasta. It will feed you well and make you happy”.
London has a beautiful co-dependent relationship with handmade pasta restaurants. We absolutely love ‘the fresh stuff’ but that doesn’t mean all of this city’s handmade pasta is equal. Officina 00 is one of the best. Everything from the comforting gnocchi numbers to the wooden school-esque chairs, make this restaurant feel like home. It serves a short, changing menu that mixes great takes on the classics with bold, surprising dishes like zesty cuttlefish tagliolini with plenty of squid ink. Plus, there’s something deeply satisfying about watching someone make your pappardelle at the pasta station like they’re crafting Venus De Milo’s abs.
The River Cafe is a famous restaurant. Not just because there’s almost always someone famous inside. From its beautiful Thames-side views to its legendary chocolate nemesis cake, this extortionately priced Hammersmith restaurant was the first to make regional Italian food in the city. Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray did that rare thing back in 1987—they opened a modern institution. Just know that despite the high prices, half portions are, unashamedly, available on request. And most importantly the River Cafe more than holds up today.
Mele E Pere
Mele E Pere is a very sexy place to be. It could be the vermouth bar, it could be the flirtatious tagliatelle fork-twirling, or it could be its moody Soho basement location. Whatever it is, Mele E Pere manages to feel like a restaurant that’s been around forever but still suits all of your modern dining needs. Last-minute catch-ups over huge 48-hour fermented dough pizzas? Check. A charming, affordable date night featuring gluten-free pasta for your beloved? Sorted. A desperate urge to eat huge slabs of Italian desserts on a Tuesday night? Nonna Mantovani’s tiramisu has got you covered. Know that the real showstoppers are the classics—tagliatelle beef ragu, san daniele ham, and a delightful espresso affogato to finish.
Like Gaga on a campaign trail or us when we make some semblance of effort, Luca is glam. A sophisticated Clerkenwell spot with lots of polished surfaces and dark wooden booths, this place specialises in cooking Italian food using British produce, with elements of British cuisine thrown in. Are you keeping up? Good. To get peak enjoyment out of Luca, we suggest you do the following: sit at the charming bar with your favourite person, order the outrageous parmesan fries and a bowl of the exceptional rigatoni with pork sausage ragu, and ask the bartender to make you a gold negroni. Italian counter dining done right.
Bocca Di Lupo
Bocca di Lupo is an Italian restaurant in Soho that still hits all the right notes, over a decade after first opening. The menu changes daily but you’ll generally find amazing pastas, excellent grilled meat and seafood, and regional dishes from across Italy. There are tables which are good for groups, but the bar is where you want to sit—it’s the best place to drink one of the very good wines and observe the upscale dining room. Call ahead if you can, as it gets ridiculously popular in the evenings. Oh, and never say no to a scoop of gelato to finish.
No matter how much ready-made tortellini you eat at home or bog standard mozzarella you buy from the shop across the road, there’s something perpetually seductive about an Italian restaurant done right. Brutto proves this. It’s a place that feels comfortably worn in. The buzzy Florentine-inspired trattoria has bedded itself into Farringdon seamlessly—red gingham cloths, hearty ragus, impeccable steaks, enormous tiramisus, and all.
The King’s Road isn’t lacking in food options, but for a place that has rustic interiors, dim lighting, and a sourdough so good you’ll refuse to share, Made In Italy is your best bet. This three-floor restaurant in Chelsea serves all the classics: bruschetta and aubergine parmigiana that feels like a hug, as well as some really great pizzas. Generous with the tomato sauce, with an excellent crust, and covered with spicy salami to mushrooms and black truffle. There’s something here for everyone. That, plus the hidden terrace and fairy lights, make it ideal for a date or an intimate birthday dinner that should always end in a slice of the tiramisu.
Il Portico has been around since the 1960s, and it continues to serve top-notch Italian food. But what is it exactly that makes it so great? Is it the intimate booths at the back? Is it the no-nonsense menu? The handmade pasta? Well actually, it’s all of the above, plus the friendly staff and the menu filled with comforting things like nutmeg and walnut gnocchi, veal milanese, and wild mushroom risotto. Basically, you could easily spend a lot of time in this old-school Kensington restaurant, and you should.
Campania & Jones
The transportive power of restaurants should never be underestimated. Recently, we were in a fancy place with foams, mousses, and gels galore, that made us feel like we wanted to transport home. Campania is nothing like that though. The candlelit spot off Columbia Road is transportive in all the right ways. To romantic Umbrian hillside holidays, with a Call Me By Your Name-ish aesthetic, and slabs of polpettone that will have you gesturing your fingers in satisfaction.