If I had to pick a cuisine to live on it would be Italian – I love the simple dishes they prepare with fantastic ingredients and I love the natural hospitality Italian restaurants so often show. In London many good restauarnats require advanced booking but most of these favourite restaurants are not only fantastic, but often possible to get in on the day. I don’t like having to organise my life weeks ahead so this is quite important to me.
1. Montpeliano, 13 Montpellier Street
Tel +44 20 7589 0032 web www.montpellianorestaurant.com
This is close to Harrods (Knighstbridge tube station). it was a favourite of Princess Diana and is one of the most lovely restaurant spaces in London. Open and airy and elegant draped with celebrity photos and Warhol prints. The staff have a mission to see you happy and always stop to chat or have a little joke.
There tomato soup is bursting with flavour (they must not buy the tomatoes in England!) and Veal Milanese is better than most I’ve had bettered in italy or Austria (where it is called Wein Schnitzel). They buy the best cut of Veal, flatten it incredibly thinly and get just the right amount of crispiness without it swimming in oil. It doesn’t come the potato salad that it is served with in Italy or Austria but the vegetable selection is still very nice.
The deserts are all delicious and the coffee gelato is one of the best i’ve ever had – strong coffee flavour and creamy without overpowering the coffee.
Coffee always arrives with a generous selection of amaretti biscuits, biscotti and (in the evening)chocolate mints.
The a la carte menu is not cheap but they have an excellent set menu (sorry no Veal Milanese on that though) which I highly recommend.
2. Manicomio, Duke of York Square
Tel +44 20 7730 3366 Web http://www.manicomio.co.uk/chelsea/
This is on the Duke of York square (nearest tube Sloane Square) which was built while I was living in New York and a wonderful thing to find on my return to London. I tis close to Sloane Square tube station. Take in the lovely shops on The Duke of York Square, the Saatchi gallery round the corner or the famous Peter Jones store that is the benchmark of quality for much of the UK. If you go at Christmas the lights around this area are simply magical.
This is one of my favourite al fresco dining places in London when the weather improves.
It is simple but elegant and has a buzz as it has quite a large seating area. Heated lamps and sheltered screens extend the season from May to November. The inside isn’t that atmospheric so I tend to keep it for slightly warmer days. Unusually for most of London’s al fresco spots, you can pre-book a table outside.
Everything I’ve ever had there has been excellent but the first thing I usually do is consult the specials in the hope they have Lobster chilli linguine on as I think it is the best in London with a wonderfully rich thick sauce and generous pieces of lobster.
3. Pellicano restaurant 19-21 Elystan Street
Tel +44 207 589 3718 web http://www.pellicanorestaurant.co.uk
You’ll never find this unless you are looking for it. It is tucked away on the back streets of Chelsea a 10 minute walk from South Kensington tube station and mainly frequented by locals. The fish dishes are great and I love their linguine Vongole (clams).
4. Acciuga, 343 Kensington High street
Tel +44 207603 3888 web acciuga.co.uk
This is at the far end of Kensington High street where most tourists don’t get to though it is probably only a 15 minute walk from Kensington High street. The first time I went I waited ages for a friend to join me – he kept calling to ask if I’d got the name right. It turned out it had changed names but the old phone number had worked. Some people might know it as Timo which was a beloved local Italian with wonderful manger.
The ravioli special is one of my favourite appetisers.
In its new form Acciuga makes up in sophisticated Sicilian food what it lacks in staff warmth – don’t get me wrong, they’re fine – just not what they used to be at Timo.
It is quite expensive but I’ve been a number of times on some deal so try googling the name before you book
5. La Famiglia, 7 Langton Street
Tel +44 20 7351 0761 web http://www.lafamiglia.co.uk
This transports you to Italy with its white walls and covered terrace for summer. It is almost always impossible to get into on impulse without a reservation resulting in my going less frequently than to the others.
If it is winder you must have their Wild boar rags pasta. It may appears as Cingiale – i love the Italian word for wild boar. It always conjures up families of dady board and babies trotting through friends’ gardens in Italy.
6. Locanda Ottomezzo, 2-4 Thackeray street
Tel +44 20 7937 2200 web https://www.locandaottoemezzo.org.uk
The nearest tube stations are High Street Kensington and Gloucester road.
This is the proper restaurant of the cafe next door which is one of my favourite morning places for coffee. It is small and intimate and buzzy with rich coloured walls. The perfect winter hideaway restaurant. The pastas are all home made and I’ve often had a ragu pasta there but everything is always outstandingly good.
7.Assaggi, 39 Chepstow Place, W2, Notting Hill
Tel+44 20 7792 5501 http://www.assaggi.co.uk
The good news is this may set the standard for fine dining Italian in London (along with one or two other places like Ceccione in Mayfair). It is upstairs in a wonderful dining room that feels like it might be part of an Italian grandmother’s large apartment. Everything is beautiful. I went once with a colleague from overseas and the crab starter, fish main course and biter chocolate sorbet were divine.
Most recently we had the most delicious pear salad followed by lamb – the most tender, succulent beautiful lamb you’ve ever tasted. They often say lamb is the test of a great chef and if so the chef here is a Michelin five star God!
The bad news is Assagi needs to be booked quite far ahead and there is no way of getting out without a large hole in your pocket.
8.Lucio 257 fulham Road
Tel +44 20 7823 3007 website is down at time of writing
The nearest tube is South Kensington. This is a fantastic winter restaurant. I first went here on a date – the lovely chap scored lots of points for taking to me to what become one of my favourite restaurants in London and our relationship went swimmingly for quite some time and we’re still great friends. The a la carte menu is quite expensive but they do an absolutely fantastic set menu at lunch times including, rarely for most places, on a Sunday.
At Sunday lunch it is brimming with Italian families chattering away, wine flowing, climbing of classes, children behaving well and just marvellous food. The set menu entitles you to almost everything that would have been on the a la carte so is far from being restrictive. The only thing that isn’t on it is the molten chocolate desert which is sensational – intensely chocolaty. Everything I’ve ever had here has been wonderful.
For some reason not all their wines are on the wine list – I’ve often been recommended some wines that weren’t – so ask them what they suggest, They’ll tell you honestly and not try to use this to bump up the price.
9.Ziani 45 Radnor walk, Chelsea
Tel +44 207 351 5297 www.ziani.co.uk
Lovely small buzzy restaurant with tables slightly too close together but great food and a fantastic atmosphere on a Friday evening when you want somewhere very alive with great Italian comfort food.
10. My 10th contender is tough and is probably jointly held between two very special and unusual pizza restaurants
I’ve been going to Da Marios on Gloucester road, Kensington (Princess Diana’s favourite old haunt) for decades.
I discovered Ciro Piazza Pomadoro on Beachamp place (Knithsbridge) near Harrods a few year sago and have been to a coulee of birthdays – it is a brilliant atmosphere with live bands.