My favourite neighbourhood Italian restaurants in London. Think where to sample the best smouldering, caliginous wood-fired pizzas and super cosy trattoria-style gaffs where the pasta is executed to precision, and risottos luxuriate in butteriness yet retain their al dente form. Most of my picks are family run, valued mainly by locals in the know, and seriously affordable. Some of them are a bit off the beaten track. But worth going out of the way for.
L’Antica Pizzeria, Hampstead
I live in the depths of South London. If one of my north London friends suggests going here, I don’t hesitate. That’s how good it is. This isn’t a restaurant. It’s a laboratory. It’s a regular Italian gaff’s answer to molecular gastronomy. The dough is low salt. Only Caputo flour is used. This is important. The Neapolitan flour company uses the best wheat grains in the world, milled steadily for optimal water absorption and superior yield. The chefs at Antico ferment it slowly, over 36 hours. Then it’s blasted in the oven at 400 degrees. There’s crispness, and springy cushion-softness in the dough. The tomato sauce is crushed by hand. Tell them to hold back on the garlic on any toppings you order; it spoils the pure, minimalist taste of scientific perfection. Get the simplest mozzarella pizza (£6.95) and you’ll know what I mean.
Antica Pizzeria Hampstead, 66 Heath Street, NW3 1DN, open Monday to Thursday 5pm-10.30pm and Friday to Sunday 12pm-10.30pm; 020 7431 8516; anticapizzeria.co.uk
Italian Pizza Connection, Bayswater
A thoroughly beautiful thing on a thoroughly ugly street; neighbours include a Waitrose superstore that gleams like a hideous great green and white shopping bag, a public toilet and a dry cleaners. I walked past this for years when I was local, watching with admiration as the Pizzaiolo stretched and kneaded at the dough from his little station with the same calculated, loving precision of a mouse torturing his prey. I’m glad that finally, one day I went in. The sheets of pizza are crisp canvases absorbed with the smoked heat of the woodburning oven. The crusts are rippled with beautiful, soft collapsing boils of dough. Toppings are traditional. I usually go for the vegetarian for the sloppy tufts of spinach, generously-sliced mushrooms and artichokes (£14).
94 Bishop’s Bridge Road, Bayswater, W2 5AA; 0207 229 3536; open daily 12pm-11pm; italianpizzaconnection.com
Osteria dell’Arte, Clapham
Most of the restaurants in Clapham are deeply silly. Its high streets are a rank conveyor belt of limp, sad food sluttishly tarted up with absurd names. So you get ‘meat patties’ instead of burgers, and chicken served with ‘cultured’ salad cream. The effect is like lipstick on a pig. In this context, Osteria dell’Arte is a mini miracle. It serves a small, sensible, solid menu. No dish is weak. I normally order the beef carpaccio with caper and mustard dressing; I love the unapologetic saltiness with the hit of heat (£8.50). I also recommend the mussels; they arrive bloated, in a punchy garlic and lemon sauce (£7.50).
126 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UH; open Monday 6pm-11pm, Tuesday to Friday 11am-11.30pm and Saturday to Sunday 10am-11.30pm; 020 7622 0452; osteriadellarte.com
Da Beppe, Fitzrovia
Oh my days. The pappardella alla bolegnese. It’s served with fat, flattened streaks of pasta, writhing demonically in a rich, rippling tomato ragu dolloped with peaks of semi-melted mozarrella cheese. Expect purist, no frills Italian cooking, executed brilliantly note at this simple family-run restaurant tucked away behind the BT tower. the linguine al Beppe with clams, prawns and squid has proved a hit with friends too (both £13.50). It doubles up as a sports bar, so I tend to avoid when there is a big football game on.
72 Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 6LZ; open Tuesday to Friday 11.30am-2.30pm and 6-10.30pm, and Saturday to Sunday 3.30pm-10.30pm, closed Monday; dabeppe.co.uk
Il Girasole, Earlsfield
This was a favourite haunt of mine when I lived in the neighbourhood. Girasole means sunflower, and this informs the spirit of this titchy restaurant, with its black-eyed susans decorating the tables, sweeping, expressionist floral paintings and bumblebee yellow walls. Don’t pass up the folded pizza starters (£6.50), thin whippets all tangy tomato in the middle, and pleasantly black-bubbled dough at the edge. I also recommend the linguine with clams and asparagus, which tastes punchier than it sounds (£13.50). The umbrian sausage and lentil stew with brick-thick slabs of rosemary focaccia for dunking, is perfect for a wintry, wind-snarled afternoon. (£15).
189 Garratt Lane, Earlsfield, SW18 4DR; open Tuesday to Sunday 6pm-10pm, closed Monday; 020 8870 0931; ilgirasole.co.uk
Bar Remo, Mayfair
I am yet to find better pizza in London. This little Mayfair restaurant – all exposed beams and black-and-white photographs of mammas rolling out dough while dressed in cocktail dresses – has been in the Vignali family for 90 years. The pizzas come out of the stone-baked oven with bases all blistered and charred at the edges and crisp in the middle, even under the weight of the tomato sauce. There’s no gimmicky, outlandish topping combinations, just tried-and-tested recipes executed with astronomer’s precision. My favourite is the campagnola with spicy salami on soothing islands of mozzarella, studded with pitted black olives and artichoke. And it costs just £9.90.
2 Princes Street, Mayfair, W1B 2LBopen Monday to Friday 10am-11pm, Saturday 12pm-11pm and Sunday 12pm-10.30pm; 020 7629 1715; barremo.me
Locanda Ottoemezze, Kensington
The only reason I clocked this place was because I go to a hairdresser on the same little-visited, Kensington street. The cosy all-day dining affair run is by brothers Emidio and Francesco. The interiors are country kitchen doused in crimson paint and plastered with memorabilia from Italian films. Start with the succulent carpaccio of smoked swordfish served with shards of mango and papaya and a sprightly lemon dressing that accentuates rather than adds to the dish (£12). Then opt for the fleece-textured black ink gnocchi with podgy red prawns and baby spinach (£18) or the chef’s black truffle pasta, which tastes of earth and expense (£18). The ‘baffo nero’ filet of beef finished in a pungent, pleasantly acidulated red wine sauce (£28) is renowned in the neighbourhood
2-4 Thackeray Street, Kensington, W8 5E; generally opens around 6 or 7pm and closed at 10.30pm Monday to Saturday (closed Sundays); 020 7937 2200; locandaottoemezzo.org.uk
I come here for two things: the cicchetti and the risotto. My generous spread normally features the juicy, jarringly seasoned beef and parmesan polpette (meat balls/£5) crispy, salt-slicked anchovy crostinis (£4.50) and romano pepper and robiola frittata with aioli (£4). The risottos luxuriate in butter, but they are also enlivened with earthy flavours – like speck, porcini and spring onion (£10 or £19.50). Recommended sweet wine pairings add a sense of occasion to desserts like Amalfi lemon posset and Mascarpone cheesecake (£7/£8).
62 Seymour Street, Marylebone, W1H 5BN; open Monday to Friday 8am-10.30pm, Saturday 9.30am-11pm, Sunday 9.30am-10pm; 020 3826 7940; bernadis.co.uk
Enoteca Turi, Belgravia
This smart family-run establishment on the Pimlico Road has a strong sense of occasion, with its white-clothed tables, formidable wine list and emphasis on provenance. Every dish is inspired by a particular region in Italy, from Puglia to Lazio, and often feature rare ingredients that are seldom seen beyond the region from whence they have been sourced. Expect the likes of scallops with red chicory from Campania (£14.50) or a dish of pan-fried calves liver with vegetable crisps traditional to Emilia Romagna (£21.50). My favourite dishes are the veal kidneys, tenderer than a lover’s goodbye, served with roasted artichokes and crumblings of pecorino (£13.50) and the roast suckiling pig, all seething juices and dense, succulent protein, plated with black cabbage and quince compote (£26.50).
87 Pimlico Road, Belgravia, SW1W 8PH; open Monday to Thursday 12pm-2.30pm and 6.30pm, same opening times Friday and Saturday but closes half-an-hour later, closed Sunday; 020 7730 3663; enotecaturi.com
Homeslice Pizza, Covent Garden
It started life as a mobile wood-fired oven targeting people with Sennheiser headphones and septum rings at food markets in the East End. It’s now got its own brick-and-mortar building in Neal’s Yard, and owing to its well-constructed pizza bases, all delicacy and crunch, it’s well deserved. Pizza slices are around £4 so unlike other pizza places in London, it’s possible to mix and match. I’m not usually seduced by strange toppings, but the bone marrow, spring onion and watercress is juicy, herb-smacked brilliance. A stellar choice for a quick, cheap theatre bite – if you can get a seat.
13 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP; 020 3151 7488; open daily 12pm-11pm; homeslicepizza.co.uk
This place has been the favoured local Italian haunt for Chelsea residents for almost 20 years now, and it’s easy to see why. With its tightly-packed tables topped, baby-blue serviettes, exposed brick, and skylight oozing with natural sun, the dining area has real charm for a date. There’s a big soup section, so I tend to go for that as a starter when I come. Try the zuppa alla Milanese (£9.70), a burly, herb-lashed veggie soup served with an avalanche of Parmesan cheese. The seafood is also pretty refined; as if a hunk of turbot isn’t posh enough, they souse theirs in a lobster sauce (£36).
1-3 Walton Street, Chelsea, SW3 2JD; open daily 12.30pm-2.45pm and 7pm-11.30pm; 020 7225 2301; scalinilondon.co.uk