The non-existent décor and amateurishly presented menus of this tiny, no-frills Kentish Town restaurant might explain how they can do what they do: serve some of the best Italian food in the capital at laughably low prices. The owners have worked at big London hitters such as The Ledbury, Sketch and Le Gavroche – and it shows. From the daily specials to the exceptional ice creams, sorbets and baked desserts, there’s fantastic quality throughout. Anima e Cuore translates as heart and soul, and it’s clear the owners have thrown theirs lovingly into this wonderful little restaurant. And did we mention that it’s BYOB? Just one more reason why we love it.Read more
This classy venture in Peckham thumbs its nose at run-of-the-mill local Italians. With its smart looks, daily menu of simple yet accomplished dishes and carefully chosen cellar, it could give the best central London Med joints a run for their money. The minimal interior, complete with communal table and open kitchen in the back room, lets the food do the talking. The short menu – full of punchy propositions such as asparagus with gorgonzola and horseradish, plus own-made pasta and wickedly good ice cream – is an ambitious labour of love that further ups the ante on Peckham’s poshest street.Read more
There’s as much buzz around the food at this enduringly popular Soho Italian as there is the celebs who dine here. This can make getting a table at short notice tricky for mere mortals, so book ahead. For the full experience, counter seats make for a lively meal with views of the chefs at work – but bear in mind it can get a bit hot here! Otherwise the smart dining room at the back is more discreet. Take a tour of the regions of Italy via small plates or large-portion dishes, with addictive deep-fried snacks – such as breaded olives stuffed with minced pork and veal – alongside salads, homemade pastas and grills.Read more
There’s a charm to the Polpo group of restaurants, with their NYC meets Venetian bàcaro styling, and menus to match. Soho-ites have lapped up the ‘small plates’ revolution, which also goes one further (or smaller) at Polpo in the form of cicchetti (bite-sized Venetian bar snacks). A few of these, for example a plate of fritto misto, a bowl of pork and fennel meatballs and a few slices of ‘white’ pizzette bianca, is all you need to be happy. There are further branches from Covent Garden to Chelsea, while sister restaurant Polpetto is on Soho’s Berwick Street.Read more
If you’re hot to trot to Trullo at the weekend, plan at least a week in advance to make a booking. Even though it opened in 2010, this two-floor contemporary trattoria can still get busy-verging-on-frenetic in the evenings, as the Highbury locals pile in. Lunchtime is calmer, and allows the kitchen to show just how confident its cooking can be. Mains feature the oven and a hard-working charcoal grill. The wine list boasts an excellent selection of Italian regional wines, including natural and biodynamic options. And desserts are taken very seriously, with tarts a speciality.Read more
Years on, food bores will probably be waxing lyrical about how this modest Bermondsey restaurant started a movement for clean, simple modern Italian food at bargain prices – River Café-lite. It wouldn’t be implausible. After all, Zucca is a brilliant operation, its food refreshingly pared back yet achingly good, the prices decent and the design neat and unfussy. It’s a genuine return to letting ingredients speak for themselves, in a time where elaborate dishes seem to have reached their zenith.Read more
Isola del Sole
This charming Sardinian neighbourhood restaurant tucked away in East Sheen is the second branch from Isola del Sole - the popular original is off Putney High Street, just down the road. There's a focus on the wines, food and produce of Sardinia, though some classic Italian dishes also make their presence felt. Starters include bruschetta al pomodoro, burrata served on aubergine 'caviar' and insalata di granchio - a crab salad with avocado and a fresh tomato sauce. Main courses range from home-made tagliatelle with tiger prawns and tomatoes to pappardelle with wild boar ragout, crab linguine and pancia di maiale e fagiole - Sardinian style pork belly with borlotti beans and sautéed spinach. An exclusively-Italian wine list slants heavily toward Sardinia, complemented by bottles from Friuli, Piedmont, Marche, Veneto and Tuscany. Cocktails come courtesy of Kay Plunkett-Hogge, author of Make Mine a Martini, who has put together a selection of Italian-inspired mixes exclusively for Isola del Sole. Beers - Menabrea and Ichnusa - are both Sardinian brews.