We know what you're thinking: Italian food isn't exactly an up-and-comer or an unsung hero in the London dining scene. Or the international dining scene for that matter. It's more of the odds-on favourite and, along with French cuisine, remains the favoured choice among the ranks of haughty Michelin inspectors the world over. But if Italian food is some of the best represented and mostly highly revered in the city that we live in, why is it that so many of the Italian restaurants smattered across London are so bland and forgettable?
We'd lay the blame on the fact that a lot of restaurants suffer from trying to do too much in an ill-advised and sycophantic attempt to appeal to too many people. Offering bland takes on catchall Italian cooking, those overwhelmingly "safe" eating spots mean that diners like ourselves (and yourselves) are all too often presented with a menu where the garlic bread is the most innovative and exciting dish available.
Thankfully, that's not always the case, and there are some cracking regional Italian restaurants in London that have eschewed the holy trinity of pizza, pasta and bruschetta in favour of serving dishes that stem from specific areas of Italy. We're talking hyperlocalism, here: bold and colourful cooking where the distinct flavours of Puglia, Calabria and Tuscany are given freedom to roam rampant all over your palate.
This isn't a guide of where to go when you're looking for a crowd pleasing carb-heavy dinner at a Ciao Bella (or God forbid Bella Italia) but rather a list of the restaurants in London that are dedicated to Italy's specific culinary regions. There's nothing wrong with being a jack of all trades, but this guide's about the masters of one, and the chefs who are out there doing justice to the food and cooking of their own upbringings. Roman ragu? Venetian bocconcini? Tuscan wine? If you're looking for the best regional Italian restaurants in London, you've come to the right place.
And just as a quick FYI to any Italian restaurateurs out there: you can't call your food "cucina povera" when you're charging £19 for a plate of cacio e pepe, mate. So – y'know – stop doing that.
20 of the best regional Italian restaurants in London
30 Almeida Street, N1 1AD
"Radici" is Italian for roots, and you can find the roots of this Upper Street Italian held in the rustic footholds and crags of the Calabrian landscape. Inspired by chef patron Francesco Mazzei's upbringing, the menu at Radici is rifling with classic southern Italian dishes like southern lasagna (a special Mazzei family recipe) and Calabrese pizza topped with 'nudja, spicy salame and smoked ricotta. There's a proper family feel at Radici; the atmosphere so relaxed that it borders on the homely. Apt considering that heaping dishes of pot roasted guinea fowl and crisp roast potatoes are the perfect plates for passing around the table to your loved ones. Speaking of your beloved, the bambini menu is also worth a punt if you plan on taking your whole clan along with you.
8 Charlotte Street, W1T 2LS
Ben Tish's Norma serves Sicilian food that places a particular focus on the island's Moorish influence. Medjool dates rub shoulders with burrata and caponata in Fitzrovia as this Charlotte Street slapper offers a regional taste of Italy that doesn't fall into the trap of the staid – albeit delicious – salt, tomato, carbohydrate triumvirate of many red-sauce restaurants. Sustainable Italian and British produce combine for a dining experience that leaks the warmth of Italian hospitality. Roasted North Sea hake sits atop a bed of seasonal Delica pumpkin mash and remains light and flaky under its 'nduja-coated skin. Round off your meal with a cannoli for dessert to end the meal in true Tony Soprano fashion.
36 Brixton Water Lane, SW2 1PE
You'll be unsurprised to learn that the Tuscan region of Maremma is where the dishes at Maremma get their inspiration. While Brixton is hardly Tuscany, this neighbourhood restaurant does an excellent job at transporting you to that balmier clime through it's sunny plates of food. You can also – very literally – get a taste of that region there, too. All of the wines (none of which have been represented before in the UK), salumi, cheeses and olive oil are imported directly from specially selected Tuscan suppliers. Tortellini Maremmani shine particular bright; fragile parcels of pasta that arrive in front of you swimming in a reduction of butter and sage. Yes, the Super Tuscan wine list does get a little expensive but it also boasts grailed vintages of Tuscany's very finest. If you want to do it right, do it at Maremma.
Russell Norman's Polpo is Venice through and through. Arriving on the London dining scene over a decade ago with its brash Venetian sharing plates concept, Polpo's influence can be found smeared on the communal tables of just about every trendy restaurant in East London. Transitioning from the role of noisy trendsetter into the old guard is never easy but Polpo has undergone that change fairly comfortably thanks to its consistently excellent cicheti and laid-back atmosphere. Fried bocconcini; potato and parmesan crocchette; and stuffed, fried olives are just a few of the snacks you'll want to keep company with a vibrant spritz as you people watch the night away.
71 Central Street, EC1V 8AB
If you're looking to get yourself a proper taste of Roman cooking without having to go through the rigmarole of booking an EasyJet abroad, Palatino's your restaurant. Delica squash ravioli bob in sea of sage-pumped butter so rich and evocative it'll have you hearing the gentle gurgle of the Trevi Fountain. Palatino does a fine job at presenting firm favourites on its menu alongside more obscure regional inclusions. Cuttlefish ragu and veal pajata intestine ragu, for example, are traditional Roman sauces you'll struggle to find elsewhere in London. And you'll struggle to find them ladled over a better plate of snappy pasta than at Palatino.
20 Savile Row, W1S 3PR
Former L'Anima head chef Francesco Mazzei is a chef whose cooking comes from all around the Boot of the Italy, but his real expertise lies in in the food of his native Calabria. If that's what you're after, you'll find plenty of it at this, the only restaurant on Savile Row.
8 Gillingham Street, SW1V 1HJ
"Tozi" means "friends" in Venice, and that sociability is at the heart of this laid-back cicchetti restaurant near Victoria station, which was serving Venetian sharing plates before they were cool. You'll find great charcuterie, delicious pizzette, vibrant pastas and a fantastic all-Italian wine list to set things off. Visit for a meal you'll find yourself daydreaming about in your cubicle for the next couple of months.
8. Terra Rossa
139 Upper Street, N1 1QP
Located a dangerous-to-this-writer's-wallet distance from a Le Creuset shop on Upper Street, Terra Rossa is an Italian restaurant intent on delivering a taste of Puglia to Islington's bistro-hardened battalion of yummy mummies. Holding its roots in Italy's heel, Puglian cuisine takes inspiration from the traditional cucina povera (or "poor kitchen") style of cooking, transforming humble ingredients into dishes greater than the sum of their parts. Terra Rosso thankfully, doesn't do the typical London shtick of charging an arm and a leg for those simple and satisfying dishes and remains an affordable dining option. Order the paccheri al ragu di mare (minced octopus ragu) and thank us later.
39 Albemarle Street, W1S 4JQ
Don't let the fact that Brazilian footballers Willian Borges and David Luiz are co-partners in Mayfair's Babbo make you doubt the restaurant's ability to deliver a regional take on Italian cooking. Executive chef Nicola Cariglia draws inspiration from his own southern Italian roots with a menu that includes dishes like Babbo's signature parmigiana and burrata from Puglia with heritage tomatoes, cucumber and basil oil. It's a delicate and delicious panenka of a restaurant.
10. Osteria Romana
3-4 Park Close, SW1X 7PQ
There's no points for guessing which region of Italy's food Osteria Romana specialises in. Yep, for all the super observant out there, the kitchen at Osteria Romana serves Roman cuisine created using Roman produce that's delivered to the restaurant (from Rome) on a weekly basis. The all-Italian wine list spans the whole of Italy but it's the hyper-specific dishes like Roman-style gnocchi with black truffle, Roman-style tripe, and Roman-style saltimbocca that make Osteria Romana a decent spot to sample cooking from the Italian capital in our own. Be warned though: this is still Knightsbridge and even recipes inspired by Italian nonnas don't come cheap.
11. Via Emilia
37A Hoxton Square, N1 6NN
The Emilia-Romagna region of Italy – located up-north on the country – is the region you've got to thank for home-made egg pasta and a slew of other culinary classics. Via Emilia is a restaurant you've got to thank for sourcing all of its produce from that very region. Garlic from Ferrara. Extra virgin olive oil from Brisighella. Pecorino cheese from Ravenna. Porcini from Borgotaro. Spalla cotta and prosciutto crudo from Parma. Mortadella from Bologna. Prosciutto cotto from Modena. Pancetta from Piacenza. Salame from Felino. Even all of the wines at Via Emilia come from Emilia-Romagna region and feature some top drawer pignoletto and sangiovese liano. Come to Via Emilia to get a taste of what Emilia-Romagna is all about.
1 Vyner Street, E2 9DG
Ombra is a Hackney canalside bar and restaurant which makes an excellent perch for an early evening aperitivo and a spot of Venetian living. British produce is given an Italian twist with a menu where E5 sourdough bread and River Teign oysters mingle alongside baccalà mantecato and 'nduja and gorgonzola arancini. This is still East London, mind, so don't be surprised that this particular bacaro has got a great selection of skin contact wines. We're confident in saying that Ombra is one of the best regional Italian restaurants in London, and not just because it serves a lunch menu from Tuesday to Friday where you can get a plate of pasta and a glass of wine for £12. Though that definitely does help.
13. Enoteca Super Tuscan
8A Artillery Passage, E1 7LJ
For those of you who aren't au-fait with your high-end Italian wine terminology: "Super Tuscan" is a term that's used to describe wines made in Tuscany with non-Italian grapes and which that don't fit into the regulations set by the appellation. They're often made in the Bordeaux style, and can be among the best and most expensive red wines from the region. Think of them as the vino Avengers of that particular appellation, if you will. You'll be unsurprised to learn that you can find some really super Super Tuscan wines at Enoteca Super Tuscan in Spitalfields. But it's the combination of those excellent bottles with hearty Tuscan specialties like pappa pomodoro (a hearty soup made with bread, tomato and basil), fagioli all Toscana (cannellini beans served with crostini and extra virgin olive oil), and slow-cooked spezzatino alla Toscana (slow-cooked stew with veal and peas) that makes Enoteca Super Tuscan one of the best regional Italian restaurants in London.
14. Vasco & Piero's Pavilion Italian Restaurant
15 Poland Street, W1F 8QE
To eat Umbrian cuisine served in a familial atmosphere is the raison d'etre for any visit to Vasco & Piero's Pavilion Italian Restaurant in Soho. The menu changes daily but you can always expect to find it packed with Italian expats chowing on Umbrian cured hams and central Italian delicacies such as chicken liver crostini. It's becoming increasingly difficult in London to find bonafide neighbourhood restaurants nowadays and dining at Vasco & Piero's is a breath of fresh air in that respect. It's traditional as they come, and you'll be made to feel welcome for however long you graze at the table and gossip with your nearest and dearest. A delight.
15. Bocca Di Lupo
12 Archer Street, W1D 7BB
Yes, we're sort of cheating by putting Bocca Di Lupo on this list of the best regional Italian restaurants in London because Bocca Di Lupo doesn't just specialise in one specific region. No, the wolfish Archer Street locale prefers to serves a pan-regional menu full of dishes from a variety of different areas. The reason we've included it on this guide is because it does an excellent job at handling all of those microclimates on its menu; dishes from all across Italy's twenty regions cooked with aggressive proficiency. In the market for a bagna cauda that tastes as if it's been shipped straight from Piedmont? How about a rich dish of pappardelle with wild boar stracotto that practically reeks of Lombardy? Maybe you're after a plate of mixed grilled seafood that wouldn't look out of place on the coast of Liguria? Whatever specific Italian dish you're after, you're almost guaranteed to find it at Bocca Di Lupo, and it's almost guaranteed to be fantastic.
Battersea Power Station, SW8 5BN
Chef patron Francesco Mazzei and actual chef Francesco Chiarelli have transported some of the traditional food of their Calabrian homeland, the Mezzogiorno, to Battersea Power Station under the guise of Fiume. The bright and well-lit space is home to wholesome, hearty recipes made with fresh, vibrant ingredients sourced from the Med. It's an excellent spot to bring the bambini in tow for a meal that'll please the whole family.
148 Clapham Manor Street, SW4 6BX
Inspired by the cooking of the Amalfi coast, Robin Gill's Sorella is an Italian take on the same produce-forward format that's made The Dairy, Darby's and Counter Culture such powerhouses in the London dining scene. The menu at Sorella – comprised of cicchetti, antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci – has designed by head chef Shane Leadley and takes inspiration from the Italian coast as well as local British produce. If there's a regional Italian restaurant in London that nails the relaxed Italian attitude to cooking and eating, it's Sorella.
18. La Famiglia
7 Langton Street, W10 0JL
Eating at La Famiglia delivers a dining experience that really makes you feel like you're part of the family. This Chelsea stalwart was founded by Alvaro Maccioni back in 1966 and has been a runaway success ever since. All of the food is made using the freshest available produce (even the extra virgin olive oil comes from the Maccioni family's own olive groves in Italy) and there's something about eating at this Langton Street restaurant that just feels... right. Going here just the once is practically impossible. The Tuscany-focussed menu shows off how ingredients like artichokes, tuna and wild boar deserve to be treated and the staff ensure that you, too, realise how restaurant goers deserve to be treated.
169 Church Road, SW13 9HR
Region: Lombardy and Venice
Make tracks to Barnes to get your gob around Riva's northern Italian cooking. Specialising in the cooking from the regions of Lombardy and Venice, owner Andrea Riva's eponymous restaurant has accumulated a classy cult following over the years since it opened. It's not cheap, but it's without a doubt the best regional Italian restaurant in Barnes and quite likely one of the best regional Italian restaurants in London overall. If you're wanting a meal out where you can experience what's like to eat in a restaurant that's perfected exactly what being a restaurant is – from the ambience to the service to the food itself – then you should make time in your schedule for a visit to Riva.
20. Luce e Limoni
91-93 Grays Inn Road, WC1X 8TX
Luce e Limoni serves Sicilian cuisine without any unnecessary airs or graces. When it came to collating our shortlist for the best regional Italian restaurants in London, Luce e Limoni was near the very top of that list. It's one of the few restaurants in the city you'll find Sicilian cuisine deep cuts such as macco di fave con calamaretti saltati (dried broad bean soup with spicy squid) and real deal renditions of classics like caponata. Grab a couple of 'nnolis for dessert and you'll have consumed a meal that'll put a smile in your stomach.