Italian restaurants: there must be thousands of them, and many are truly excellent. It’s a country whose food we never seem to tire of, perhaps because we feel that by consuming vat loads of bolognese sauce and oodles of freshly made pasta we can recreate on the inside, what we lack so much here in the UK on the outside – the lovely warmth of the sun on your face and the smell of the olive groves… I digress.
We wouldn’t want to pick five Italian restaurants and say ‘these are they and none besides’. We wouldn’t want to give ourselves a coronary eating at every Italian place in London to be so definitive. But here are five places we think are noteworthy, for next time you get an Italianate craving.
Margot, for front of house service to perfection
This Covent Garden restaurant opened a year ago to offer a refined take on traditional Italian cuisine. That ethos has led them to be service-led, and the founders Paulo de Tarso and Nicolas Jaouen’s focus on impeccable service and creating the perfect atmosphere won them the title of Best Front of House at this years Tatler Restaurant Awards. It’s old school – the tables are set using string to measure each plate, table and glass ahead of service to make sure everything is immaculately presented. margotrestaurant.com
La Tagliata, for immaculate Tuscan beef
Named for its signature dish – tagliata, sliced rare Italian steak served with parmesan and rocked dressed in its own juices with garlic and lemon – the second restaurant of this name is brand new to Fitzrovia. La tagliata di manzo is the traditional offering, but you’ll also find Le sublime, beef served with truffle salt, rosemary and balsamic glaze, and La tagliata di tonno – grilled tuna, radicchio, Belgian endive with a pink pepper and leek dressing. And of course the gamut of past and antipasti. Next door is an intimate wine bar where you can start the night with aperitivo or end your evening with a digestif. la-tagliata.com
Mercato Metropolitano, for Italian street food with a conscience
Halfway between Borough and Elephant and Castle is an Italian gem – food hall, famers market, street food, a kitchen school and lab, cinema, and even on-site vegetable gardens. Mercato Metropolitano also aims to highlight sustainability issues and our growing dependence on industrialised food, themes with strong resonance in Italy, which is after all, the home of the slow food movement. It’s not just about being ‘worthy’ – you’ll find some of the best Neapolitan pizza in Naples serving pizza here, as well as Italian wines, artisanal beer makers, specialist charcuterie, and the best of Italian fruit, veg, cheese, and of course pasta. mercatometropolitano.co.uk
Pastaio, for deceptively simple pasta
Our appetite for fresh pasta is growing and growing, and Stevie Parle, the chef and restaurateur behind the Dock Kitchen and Rotorino, has extended his fascination with Italian cuisine into the fresh pasta niche with his latest opening Pastaio. All the pasta is made fresh, by hand, daily, and while at first glance the concise menu might not seem that enthralling, when plates of tonarelli cacio e pepe, or potato and and gravy ravioli start heading your way, they go to demonstrate how the simplest of dishes can often be the most delicious. pastaio.london
Ora, for three Michelin-starred cooking on a deadline
For a few weeks only, chef Heinz Beck of La Pergola in Rome is overseeing an Italian pop-up in the restaurant of Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. His style is to create comfort food with classic techniques and an element of surprise – dishes like, for example, tagliolini with black salsifies, chives and white truffle, but also John Dory with curry, red beetroot and a light pesto sauce.
Until December 24, lunch daily from 12-3pm and dinner from 5.30pm-10.45pm. Book at firstname.lastname@example.org