Italian cuisine is intensely regional. The country didn’t unite until the 19th century, by which time every region had developed a distinct culinary identity, and there are further variations within each region. Broadly speaking, the north is known for risottos, polenta and cheeses; the centre of Italy for tortellini and other stuffed pastas; and the south for pizza, vegetables and seafood.
Learn about the cuisine by eating your way around London's regional Italian restaurants. We’ve chosen just one from each of the 12 (out of a total of 20) Italian regions found in London.
Key ingredients and flavours: rice, maize, beef, pork, butter, lard, cheeses such as taleggio, gorgonzola and grana padano.
Classic dishes: polenta, risotto alla milanese, ossobuco (braised veal shanks), cotoletta (bone-in cutlets), cassoeula (pork with cabbage), bresaola (air-dried salted beef), pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta), tortelli di zucca (pasta stuffed with pumpkin), mostarda (fruit condiment with mustard), and the ever-popular panettone.
Try it at: Il Cudega
Owned by two childhood friends from Lombardy, this cosy restaurant, deli and wine bar is open only during the day (and occasionally for evening supperclubs). Tucked under the railway arches at the bottom of London Fields, it’s a family-friendly venue, whose name means ‘pork scratching’ in the Milanese dialect. It specialises in foods from the region’s Slow Food producers.
Here you’ll find risotto alla milanese, polenta with toppings including gorgonzola and taleggio, charcuterie and cheese platters, and panettone for dessert (also available to buy in the deli). Look out for specialities such as raspadura (soft grana padano cheese), slinzega (a special variety of bresaola), goose prosciutto, and risotto giallo saltato (fried thin slices of saffron risotto). The drinks list showcases the region’s lesser-known wines.
Il Cudega, Railway Arch 358, Westgate Street, E8 3RN.
Key ingredients and flavours: fish and seafood such as squid and cuttlefish, squid ink, frogs’ legs, sausages, garlic salami, pumpkin, asparagus, red radicchio from Treviso, white asparagus, porcini mushrooms, rapini greens, legumes, spices, rich sauces, and cheeses like asiago.
Classic dishes: fegato alla veneziana (veal liver with onions), risotto, polenta (including white polenta), risi e bisi (rice and peas), pasta e fagioli (pasta with beans), marinated anchovies, and tiramisu. Famous wines include valpolicella and prosecco.
Try it at: Ombra
Styled after a bacaro (a gastropub or wine bar where you can eat cicchetti – Venetian tapas), this buzzy restaurant is appropriately located by the canalside… in Bethnal Green. Ombra means ‘shadow’, a Venetian dialect term for a small glass.
On the daily changing menu, expect pastas made on-site, such as bigoli (coil-shaped Venetian pasta) with clams; plus polenta served with squid ink and cuttlefish, or with baccala mantecato (whipped salt cod). There are a variety of salads and ‘small eats’ too, like sweet and sour sardines. There’s also a good selection of regional wines from small producers, but the thing to drink here is Spritz.
Ombra Bar and Restaurant, One Vyner Street, E2 9DG.
Key ingredients and flavours: vegetables including artichokes and onions, herbs, seafood, olive oil, and basil. Many of the breads, pastas and pancakes are based on chickpea flour or chestnut flour.
Classic dishes: pesto, savoury pies, farinata (chickpea flour pancake), and panissa (fried polenta slices, plain or with toppings). Several pastas like corzetti (either figure-of-eight shape or embossed with a stamp), pansoti (stuffed triangular ravioli), piccagge ribbons, trenette (wholewheat flour strips), and trofie (pasta twists based on wheat, chestnut flour or potato gnocchi). Trofie is the classic pairing with pesto, along with green beans and potatoes.
Try it at: Zena
Named after the Ligurian word for Genoa, this casual Fitzrovia venue is the place to head to for the real taste of trofie with pesto. You’ll also find farinata, and onion and vegetable pies here; plus a wide selection of focaccia sandwiches. In addition to pesto, you can match various pastas with different sauces like walnut, mushroom and tomato. The sauces are freshly made, and also available to buy.
Zena, 144 Great Portland Street, Fitzrovia W1W 6QT.
Key ingredients and flavours: balsamic vinegar, truffles, tomatoes, eggs, rice, polenta, and cheeses like parmigiano reggiano, grana padano, and squacquerone. Horse and donkey meats are eaten in some parts. The region is famous for its pastas.
Classic dishes: stuffed pastas like capppelletti, sfofglia lorda, and tortelli alla lastra, tubular garganelli and gramigna pastas, hand-rolled strozzapreti pasta, tortellini, lasagne, and tagliatelle. Dried, salted or cured meats (especially pork-based), including prosciutto, culatello, salami, pancetta, coppa; plus sausages like mortadella, zampone, cotechino. Also piadina flatbreads, and zuppa inglese (boozy trifle-like dessert with custard and sponge).
Try it at: Totide
A brainchild of three friends from Emilia-Romagna – considered to be one of the best food regions of Italy – the name of this Putney restaurant and wine bar means ‘every day’ — the menu is suitable for all occasions.
You’ll find many of the items mentioned above, including tortellini, tagliatellle, lasagne, cured meats, cheeses and zampone – a hearty main-course dish that’s a must-try. Lesser-known specialities include gnocco fritto (fried dough parcels), tigelle (small, round, delicate flatbreads – a speciality of the region) filled with parmesan and black truffle, piadina with squacquerone cheese, and risotto alla modena (parmesan risotto wrapped in 22 month aged parma ham). There’s a good selection of wines from Emilia-Romagna and other regions.
Totide, 4 Chelverton Road, Putney, SW15 1RH.
Key ingredients and flavours: legumes, vegetables like cavolo nero, mushrooms, white truffles, fruits, breads, cheeses, beef, and pork; plus game such as wild boar, hare, fallow deer, roe deer and pheasant. Simple, rustic flavours are key.
Classic dishes: ribollita (cabbage and cannellini bean soup), pici (hand-rolled pasta that looks like coils of fat spaghetti), pappardelle pasta with ragu, and panforte (fruitcake-like confection). Many famous wines including Chianti.
Try it at: Enoteca Super Tuscan
‘Super Tuscan’ are wines that were unconventionally produced in the Chianti region in the late 1960s, and are now considered some of the finest in Italy. As you’d expect, the wine list of this Spitalfields enoteca (wine bar) is excellent, and includes a wide choice ranging from very small to large, well-known producers – including, of course, some brilliant Super Tuscans.
The food menu comprises small plates and sharing platters designed to eat with the drinks. On a regularly changing menu, you might find Tuscan-style cannellini beans with crostini and a drizzle of olive oil, slow-cooked veal and pea stew, and bread, tomato and basil soup.
Enoteca Super Tuscan, 8A Artillery Passage, Spitalfields, E1 7LJ.
Key ingredients and flavours: olive oil, herbs, vegetables, game meats including pheasant and pigeon, goose, frogs, snails, black truffles, Castelluccio lentils, and spelt. A wide variety of freshwater fish, such as lasca, trout, perch, grayling, eel, barbel, whitefish and tench.
Classic dishes: wild boar sausages, many truffle dishes such as crostini and pasta with black truffles, several types of pastas including pappardelle with hare ragout, bacon and cloves, and spit-roasted meats cooked with lots of herbs.
Try it at: Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion Restaurant
An interesting slice of London restaurant history, Vasco & Piero’s smart venue first opened more than 35 years ago in Oxford Street. Its current Soho location is frequented by celebrities and politicians.
All the dishes are based on just two or three main ingredients, and may include cured Umbrian ham with melon, roast ham with rocket salad and pecorino, and hand-made meat agnolotti with black truffle and butter sauce. The menu changes twice daily, and features pastas made on-site, plus products sourced directly from Umbrian farmers and hunters. These include olive oil, black and white truffles, and speciality ingredients such as wild fennel seeds, and lombetto (cured loin of pork).
Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion Restaurant, 15 Poland Street, Soho, W1F 8QE.
Le Marche region
Key ingredients and flavours: fish and seafood, pork, ham made from wild and domestic pigs cut into bite-sized chunks, and sausages.
Classic dishes: spit-roasted suckling pig, chicken or fish stuffed with rosemary, fennel and garlic, olive all’ascolana (deep-fried, breadcrumb-coated, meat-stuffed olives), and maccheroncini di Campofilone (thin, melt-in-the-mouth pasta made from hard grain flour and eggs).
Try it at: Rossodisera
Handily located near Covent Garden’s theatreland, this friendly restaurant is done up like a typical Italian country house. Breads, meats and cheeses are served on olive wood platters. Many of the products are sourced from small producers in Le Marche.
You can try olive all’ascolana here, along with prosciutto from the region, fettuccine with goose sauce, roast lamb with garlic and rosemary served with artichoke casserole, and oven-roasted stuffed rabbit. There’s a great selection of drinks, including wines, grappa, speciality liqueurs from the region (don’t miss these) and coffees. If you want to try their wide selection of cured meats and cheeses from the region, visit for brunch.
Rossodisera, 5 Monmouth Street, WC2H 9DA.
Key ingredients and flavours: guanciale (unsmoked bacon made from pig’s jowl or cheeks), pasta, and offal. There’s Jewish influence in many of the dishes.
Classic dishes: pasta alla carbonara, pasta all’amatriciana (both traditionally made using guanciale), pasta arrabbiata, rigatoni con la pajata (with sauce made from milk-fed calf’s intestines), coda alla vaccinara (oxtail stew), and carciofi alla giudia/ Judea (fried artichokes).
Try it at: Palatino
This restaurant is by food writer and restaurateur Stevie Parle. The stylish Clerkenwell venue is a casual all-day affair, focused on the food of ancient and modern Rome – including carefully researched age-old recipes. There are Jewish-style fried artichokes, suppli (rice croquettes) with wild mushrooms and mozzarella, gnocchi with brown butter and sage, and rigatoni with veal pajata.
Palatino, 71 Central Street, Clerkenwell, EC1V 8AB.
Puglia (Apulia) region
Key ingredients and flavours: wheat, tomatoes, courgettes, broccoli, peppers, potatoes, spinach, aubergines, cauliflower, fennel, chicory, chickpeas, lentils, fish and seafood (especially oysters and mussels), beans, goat, lamb, durum wheat pasta, and cheeses like caciocavallo. Puglia is a huge producer of food, and the largest producer of olive oil in Italy.
Classic dishes: orecchiette (‘little ‘ear’ shaped) pasta dishes based on tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, mussels, cime di rapa greens or rocket, and zeppola doughnuts.
Try it at: Ostuni
This attractive Queen’s Park restaurant is a popular neighbourhood joint with an outside terrace. Try marinated grape hyacinth bulb with artichokes, aubergine and stuffed pepper, friselle (ring-shaped wheat rusks – a Puglian speciality) with different toppings, broad bean and chicory croquettes, asparagus and ricotta soufflé with caciocavallo cheese sauce, and orecchiette with meatballs, tomato sauce and cacioricotta cheese. There are a number of items cooked in traditional charcoal-fired fornello oven. Additionally, there’s a fabulous choice of Puglian wines (though other regions are represented too).
Ostuni, 43-45 Lonsdale Road, NW6 6RA.
Key ingredients and flavours: seafood like swordfish, shrimp, lobster, sea urchin and squid. Also goat and other meats, pasta, spicy sausages like 'nduja, and land snails. There are historic French and Spanish influences in the region’s dishes.
Classic dishes: macaroni-style pasta with goat, beef or pork sauce and salty ricotta, frittuli (pork skin and offal cooked in pork fat), melon or watermelon in either fruit salad or wrapped in ham, and spicy Calabrese pizza with chillies.
Try it at: Sartoria
Renowned Italian chef Francesco Mazzei’s glamorous Mayfair restaurant and bar serves food inspired by his home region of Calabria and the surrounding areas. Dazzling dishes include scallops with 'nduja and salsa verde, wild sea bass stew with herbs, and his famous southern Italian lasagne. The food here is contemporary rather than traditional: Mazzei has taken the essence of southern Italy and given it his own interpretation.
Sartoria, 20 Saville Row, W1S 3PR.
Key ingredients and flavours: fish like tuna, sea bream, sea bass, cuttlefish and swordfish. Also rice, spinach, saffron, aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, and a prevalence of spicy or sweet and sour flavours. There are Spanish, Greek, North African and Arab influences here; and it was via Sicily that the Ancient Greeks introduced wine to Italy.
Classic dishes: couscous-based items usually combined with seafood, arancini (deep-fried rice croquettes), pasta alla norma (with aubergines, tomato sauce and ricotta salata cheese), caponata (aubergine, celery and olive stew), pani ca meusa (a street food item of sesame bread stuffed with veal’s lung and spleen), and desserts like cannoli, cassata and granita. Famous wines include Marsala.
Try it at: Luce e Limoni
King’s Cross’s very own slice of Sicily is smart-casual and attractive, with framed pictures and sparkling chandeliers. An enticing menu encompasses items such as dried broad bean soup with spicy squid, caponata with burrata, slow-roasted pork belly with lentils and Marsala reduction, and roast whole sea bream with orange and mint salad. Leave room for sweet treats such as cannoli with ricotta, and sweet ravioli with ricotta, lemon curd and Marsala.
Luce e Limoni, 91-93 Gray’s Inn Road, WC1X 8TX.
Key ingredients and flavours: suckling pig, wild boar, herbs like mint and myrtle, and seafood including rock lobster, scampi, squid, tuna and sardines.
Classic dishes: a variety of dry breads such as pane carasau and carta di musica, civraxiu (bread with soft crumb and crisp crust), pistoccu (unleavened rectangular flatbread), and the highly decorative coccoi a pitzus bread that has to be seen to be believed.
Try it at: Sardo
Sardinian food is unique in all of Italy, and this popular, long-established restaurant in Fitzrovia is the best place in London to try it. On a seasonally changing menu there may be malloreddus (gnocchi-like pasta) with sausage and fresh tomato sauce, their much-in-demand spaghetti with bottarga (dried mullet roe), linguine with crab meat, parsley and fresh chillies, fregola with asparagus and salty ricotta, and charcoal-grilled homemade sausage. In addition to Sardinian wines, there’s an exciting range of Sardinian grappa, and local liqueurs like Mirto (wild myrtle berry and honey liqueur) that are worth trying.
Sardo, 45 Grafton Way, W1T 5DQ.
Bocca Di Lupo
Jacob Kenedy’s much-loved, award-winning Soho stalwart put regional Italian cooking firmly on London’s culinary map when it opened, making us sit up and take notice of the country’s many variations and traditions. It doesn’t focus on one particular region, but showcases each of the 20 regions on its twice-daily changing menu. Every item corresponds with the name of the region it’s from. Additionally, the restaurant makes its own gelati, breads, sausages, salami, pickles, mostarda and pasta; and the rest is sourced from across Italy.
Here you might find orecchiette with 'nduja, red onions and tomatoes from Calabria, paccheri (large tube-shaped) pasta with gurnard, tomato and basil, from Campania, and herby roasted teal and polenta from Alto Adige. The award-winning wine list is simply stunning.
The restaurant has recently introduced ‘regional takeover’ menus on selected Sundays for three months this year: February (Lombardy), June (Sicily), and October (Calabria). It’s like a speedy culinary tour of Italy on a Vespa… without leaving London.
Bocca Di Lupo, 12 Archer Street, W1D 7BB.