There is a wide range of Italian dining establishments in London. The cuisine has been available on the world stage for so long as the nation has been a country of migrators. As their people have occupied different parts of the world they have happily shared their nation’s dishes. This has certainly been the case in London as there has been evidence of Italian eateries in the capital from as early as the “middle ages” but it was at the start of the 19th century that saw a real rise in Italians settling in London.
The surge of Italian tradesmen settling came as a result of the Napoleonic wars causing terrible economic conditions in Italy. Many were attracted to Clerkenwell and the area soon became known as “Little Italy”. It wasn’t long before cafes and stalls were opening. In 1878 Terroni of Clerkenwell were opened and they claim to be the oldest Italian delicatessen in London. By the 1890s it was estimated there were 12,000 Italians living in the area with 900 ice cream sellers. Italian delis have always been popular and one of the oldest is Lina Stores which has been open since 1944. Situated in Soho it has such a variety of canttuci biscuits, panettone and amaretti that it gives an atmosphere of shopping in a store back in Italy. In the kitchen home pastas are prepared with sauces. With all of the meats, cheeses and olive oil there is a real Mediterranean feel to the shop. The shop is still using the same suppliers that they did back in 1944.
Italy did not unite as a country until the 19th century and this is very much reflected in its cooking with there being much regionalised food. For example, the Lombardy region of Italy boasts great traditional ingredients and recipes, and this are all on the menu at Il Cudega which is situated under the railway arches at London fields. It is mainly only open at lunch times and serves the region’s slow foods. Favourites include the risottos and the polentas. There is an accompanying deli where it is possible to buy a wide variety of cheeses, deserts and mine from the region. If a diner is looking for food from the Veneto region there is no better place to try it than at Ombra restaurant which is located next to the canal in Bethnal Green. The specialty dishes include homemade pasta with clams, plus polenta served with cuttlefish and squid ink.
Il Portico the family run restaurant located in Kensington Hight Street has been running for six decades and has gone through three family generations of the Chiavarini. The menu includes classic dishes from the family’s home region of Emilia Romagna. The menu even includes wild game which is specially produced by the same family on their own farm in Kent. Homemade breads and pastas also a feature of this popular restaurant.
It is impossible to look at Italian cuisine without mentioning that its influence is seen in many other top restaurants which in no way claim to be Italian. Pizza is also cooked extensively around the capital whether it be in a restaurant or a fast food establishment. The London restaurant scene would not be the same without the influence of Italian food. It brings a fresh healthy feel to Londoner’s plates, as the Mediterranean produce is transformed into mouth-watering dishes.