"£10 express lunch Tuesday-Saturday noon-2:30pm (a la carte also available)."
Just south of Richmond Bridge, this traditional Italian local was half full with a mix of families and dowdyish couples on our Sunday lunchtime visit. It isn’t a particularly romantic spot – our booth table was too wide for intimate banter, the dark decor a little gloomy – but the generous, mostly reliable food makes up for it. A Cena’s owners, Tim and Camilla Healy, are spreading their net and are now co-owners of Orso and Joe Allen in Covent Garden.
The buzz is as important as the food at Jacob Kenedy and Victor Hugo’s enduringly popular Soho restaurant. Dine at the bar and you’re in for a fun night, or afternoon – especially if you’re by the window. It’s the perfect perch from which to watch favourite actresses swan in. Staff reassuringly affirm, ‘It’s sooo good,’ to virtually everything you suggest – and sometimes they’re right. We have fond memories of buttery brown shrimp on soft, silky white polenta (the Venetian preference), and a deep-fried mix of calamari, soft-shell crab and lemon.
In keeping with its name, Enoteca Turi has a particularly strong all-Italian wine list packed with treasures – our recommendation, an elegant pecorino, was spot-on. The decor feels a little dated, but the restaurant’s plus points – a convivial atmosphere, great wines, faultless service and a warm heart – are proving a winning formula in a neighbourhood overrun with soulless chains.
Opened by lifelong friends Luca and Giovanni, Il Cudega is the place to drop in for a chat, drink a few glasses, inhale a plate of mixed salumi (a generous heap of meat for £12) and polish off an expresso. With simple black-and-white decor, an intriguing wine list and a mouthwatering deli counter, it's packed with simple pleasures - specifically the best organically-produced cheese, meats and wines from their home district of Lombardy. Open only during the day, this is a small and affordable piece of Italy's gastronomic culture in one of London Fields' most unassuming railway arches.
If a restaurant is named after the cured back fat of a pig, you can expect that charcuterie is among its specialities – and so it is here. But lardo itself isn’t on the menu at Lardo, except as a pizza topping, so our charming, clued-up waiter bought a plate specially. It was excellent, as was the paper-thin fennel pollen salame. Other small plates on the short menu are divided into ‘cold’ (simple but satisfying puréed cannellini beans with black olives), ‘warm’ (an unctuous bowl of braised chicory and melted fonduta cheese topped with speck) and ‘hearty’ (Venetian lamb’s kidneys).
One of London’s most highly regarded Italian chefs, Giorgio Locatelli was recently seen on BBC2’s Italy Unpacked communicating a deep connection to his country’s food and drink with engaging brio. It shows in the menu here, which ranges voraciously through styles, regions and ingredients (some little known). There’s technique aplenty, but it’s food made to be relished as well as admired.
Padella, the sleek express-lunch pasta bar from the duo behind Islington’s Trullo does dishes small enough – and, at around £5-9, cheap enough – to let you to order three between two. Bring extra friends so you can order a bit of everything. There’s a changing mix of classics and lesser-spotted varieties like tagliarini (skinny tagliatelle), and Trullo fans will be pleased to see the signature eight-hour beef shin ragu (served over pappardelle).
The clue’s in the name: Sardo excels at Sardinian specialities. To come here for eat-anywhere dishes, such as grilled tuna steak, misses the point. But it’s largely thanks to the popularity of Romolo Mudu’s relaxed, welcoming ristorante that characteristic Sardinian ingredients such as fregola and malloreddus are finding their way on to other restaurants’ menus.
Federico and Max Sali opened Tinello in 2010, after a firm grounding at Locanda Locatelli, where the former was head chef and his brother the sommelier. Here, great produce is treated with skill and respect for tradition, but dishes still have the capacity to surprise. The pared-back elegance of the place – bare brick, dark wood, metal and mirrored tiles – reflects the simple perfection of the food and wine on offer.
Chucs Restaurant & Café
You’d never guess on a first look, but that fashionably sparse little Italian clothes shop on Westbourne Grove actually sits on an extremely good restaurant. At Chucs, food is served up in a beautifully lit, serene room that oozes 1950s Amalfi Coast cool (to say nothing of the garden courtyard, perfect for al fresco dining when summer comes around). Staff are fawning, and if that’s your bag you’ll love the place. If not, it’s just about tolerable – though a glimpse at the menu will explain exactly why they treat you like a multi-millionaire. Crudités with anchoïade were the crispest, freshest vegetables imaginable, perfectly presented on a bed of crushed ice. But the £15 price tag had us wincing. Aubergine parmigiana was expertly created, while the mains – mushroom risotto (£21!) and tagliatelle bolognese – were even deeper in flavour, achingly rich and lovingly prepared. But there really is no way to dine here on a budget: wine starts at £36 a bottle and rises steeply thereafter. Saying that, this isn’t simply a cynical, wallet-baiting experiment to see how much people are prepared to spend: the Dover Street flagship is already a huge success and our fellow diners hardly batted an eyelid. Chucs is a place for people who don’t mind spending top whack to eat terrific food and be treated like kings (and queens). For those of you without a superyacht parked in the Med, come only with a rich aunt or an expense account.
"Now that the sun is out, come and enjoy some fantastic Italian food at Chucs!"