The venue of Italian cuisine.
ACCIUGA 343 Kensington High Street, W8 6NW Phone 02076033888 www.acciuga.co.uk It’s in the wrong end of Kensington High Street and it’s run by a 24-year-old chef who has previously worked as both a lawyer and rugby player. That would seem enough to turn back home and cook oneself a plate of spaghetti. But you’d be making a big mistake, because this new, simple, elegant but not too pretentious restaurant, with cuisine from Liguria and Piedmont, deserves a try. The pasta – with pesto or with anchovies – is delectable, well-cooked and even better presented. The vitello tonnato (a classic in every reputable Italian family summer menu) is a must. Desserts are good and not too heavy. The price (around £40 per person with wine) more than reasonable.
ASSUNTA MADRE 8-10 Blenheim Street, W1 Phone 020-3230 3032 www.assuntamadre.com Even before you unfold your napkin, put your hands under the table and search for surveillance microphones. The Assunta Madre restaurant in Rome, where politicians, celebs and cardinals (cardinals dine in restaurants? Should we tell Papa Francesco?) gather was full of spy bugs, so much so that the police tapped a conversation between the fugitive Dell’Utri’s brother and his lawyer at that very establishment. Considering the unwanted attention that the restaurant gained, the owner Gianni Micalusi – aka Johnny to his famous friends, like De Niro, Woody Allen and Rafael Nadal – has opted for a breath of fresh air and opened a restaurant in Mayfair. The fish is as fresh as the young feminine clientele with miniskirts, accompanied by less fresh but well-off gentlemen, mainly Italian. There is a big fish tank where lobsters, seabass, and red-snappers try to recover from the jet-lag, having just arrived from the Terracina market. Despite being in London, people arrive here well after 9pm. Johnny goes round the tables, says hello, hugs friends and customers. and generally anyone who looks like they might be family. At the end of your dinner the bill comes to £80 each, perfectly reasonable as far as food is concerned. Jep Gambardella of “La Grande Bellezza” would be a local, were he real and living in London.
PANINO GIUSTO Threadneedle street, EC2R 8AY Phone 02072830057 For the Milanese, Panino Giusto is an icon of their youth, something that brings back memories of afternoons spent hanging around the uni’s corridors, evenings devoted to planning holidays and the thrill of juvenile love-affairs. Born in 1979 in Milan’s via Garibaldi, Panino Giusto is the symbol of the roaring 80s and represents a step ahead from the trivial sandwich to a Panino, something that had nothing to do with a sandwich, let alone the price: layers among layers of prosciutto, salami, ham, bresaola, you name it, together with vegetables, sauces, liquors, seasoning nested between two slices of super-crunchy bread; the result was a pint-sized brick that was often hard to eat. That was the glorious beginning. Then Panino Giusto became a brand, and currently has 22 venues in Italy, as well as several in Japan and China. Plus one in the City, to feed the hordes of demanding and hurried bankers, with fewer reminiscences but much more money than we, the Milanese of the 80s, have ever had.
SAID 41, Broadwick Road, W1F 9QL Phone 020 20 7437 1584 www.said.it If you think good chocolate comes only from Piedmont, think again. Antica Fabbrica del Cioccolato has produced chocolate in Rome since 1923, and now has a lovely new little place in Soho. Sit at a table close to the tin chocolate moulds covering wall and drink a hot chocolate, or buy truffles, pralines and hazelnut and dark chocolate spreads.
LA POLENTERIA 64 Old Compton Street, W1D 4UQ Phone 02074343617 www.lapolenteria.com Polenta was the only edible thing put on the table of the poorest families in northern Italy, to placate their hunger during the hardest of times. The lucky ones had a single dried fish hanging in the middle of the table and the children could rub it on their polenta plate to get some taste on the otherwise dull food. This new restaurant has a mission: rejuvenate polenta and show that it can be as various and tasty than any other delicacy. Not a hard task for northern Italians who have polenta grains in their veins. But southerners and foreigners must be educated to this new kind of nourishment. Be brave and try this healthy, tasty, filling food, gluten-free and multifaceted, great with meat, fish or vegetables, with savoury and sweet accompaniments. You’ll never be disappointed.
CAFFEINA 7 Byward Street, EC3R 5AS Phone 02076211587 www.caffeinacompany.com What we Italians want from our coffee is not only aroma, strength, or kick, but immediacy: the fact that you can go into your bar and have your coffee straight away. If it’s you local bar you don’t even need to ask. The barista knows you, reads your mind and delivers the object of your desire (il solito) in the twinkling of an eye. That is certainly not the case in London, where you have to queue for cups served one by one by lazy and slow baristas. Recently opened in Tower Hill, this tiny cosy coffee shop promises to deliver the same service you can find in any similar place in Italy. Put your hand on a countdown timer and check how long your coffee takes to reach you from the moment you order: if it’s more of one minute I’m afraid it’s a fail. Will Caffeina get an A star?