Mangia Bene – Italian Restaurants For Every Taste

Piccolo Mondo, an Italian restaurant in Glasgow, has just topped the toptable diner rating charts with a 9.0, matching double Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in London and Restaurant Martin Wishart, winner of Edinburgh’s first Michelin star.  We keep a beady eye on these things, so this seems an inspired moment to consider Italian restaurants and how we love them.

Piccolo Mondo


Piccolo Mondo in Glasgow is like a dream revived.  The Pierotti family from Barga in the Tuscan hills had another Piccolo Mondo restaurant more than thirty-five years ago, also in Glasgow. It was enormously popular and successful, winning a sheaf of awards that culminated in Les Routiers’ ‘Best Restaurant in Britain’ in 1986.  In 1989 the family sold Piccolo Mondo and involved itself in other popular, award-winning Glasgow restaurants, but they regretted having let their first restaurant go.  Now there is a new generation of Pierottis who have taken the best of the tradition of the old Piccolo Mondo and added all they have learned in the modern restaurant business to create a place that Glaswegians, the lucky sods, clearly adore, visiting again and again.
It’s very strange to think that at the end of the last war, many Britons considered Italian cuisine to be quite exotic. Outside of big-city specialist Italian suppliers, you could only buy olive oil from the chemist in those days.  Now it’s the most fashionable thing going, in the vanguard of freshness and seasonality and Italian cookbooks – Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty come to mind – are top of the charts.

Apsleys -- A Heinz Beck Restaurant


So finding that a beautiful, stylish and high-end restaurant like Apsleys – A Heinz Beck Restaurant at the five star Lanesborough Hotel serves Italian cuisine is entirely fitting.  The three Michelin-starred German chef (hm, we seem to be possibly a bit over-attentive to the puffy tire seller) has teamed up with Executive Chef Massimiliano Blasone to create a modern Mediterranean menu that’s light and assured, making this a destination restaurant.  And there are special deals now on.
Theo Randall restaurant in Mayfair is another top-drawer Italian spot that features fine Italian dishes like one of Randall’s signature dishes: calamari in padella which is pan-fried squid with fresh cannellini beans, chilli, anchovy, parsley and chopped rocket.  The wine list is mostly Italian, too, and this week there’s a brilliant special offer on: two courses and a glass of prosecco for just £25 at lunch and dinner.

Zucca Restaurant


Zucca on Bermondsey Street in London is a relaxed and unassuming little spot with a great big gourmet Italian menu where you can get out the door for less than £30, which is absolutely brilliant.  The vibe is chilled and the service very friendly and welcoming.  In fact, we can’t think of a single thing that we don’t like about Zucca, including the all-Italian wine list.
As we look over the toptable diner ratings, we notice that almost every city of any size has an Italian restaurant that diners rate extremely highly, like gorgeous Cucina at the Hotel Missoni in Edinburgh, San Carlo restaurant in Manchester and its sister restaurant, also San Carlo, in Bristol — this one has

Cucina at the Missoni Hotel


some super Christmas menus on the site.  Bristol likes Prosecco restaurant in Clifton Village, too, that featured on Gordon Ramsay’s Best Restaurant this year.  Fareham near Portsmouth has Villa Romana, a favourite restaurant that combines rusticity with modern cuisine and has a pair of lovely Christmas menus available right now.  Harrow on the Hill enjoys Incanto in the Old Post Office that features the warm and sunny flavours of southern Italian cuisine.  And so forth and so on right across the country.
Of course, the big question that separates fine Italian restaurants from more family-oriented ones might be this:  is there pizza or is there not pizza?

Pulcinella


Once again, Glasgow is on top of the mondo with Pulcinella, a cosy dining room with chequered tablecloths, a big bright carnival mural and authentic Italian dishes, including a huge selection of pizzas made with the freshest ingredients this side of Roma.
And furthermore, Glasgow rates sexy, chic Amarone highly too.  It’s more of a high-fashion Milanese spot than a village trattoria, with ‘contemporary pizzas’ created using Sanmarzano tomatoes and fior di latte mozzarella, as well as beautiful fish, meat, pastas and salads.
In London’s Mayfair, La Caricatura transports diners to Naples or possibly Manhattan’s Little Italy.  It’s a lively, family run restaurant that makes fabulous pizzas in its wood-burning oven – the spicy diavola is a signature dish.
Also in London, Il Baretto Wine Bar and Restaurant in Marylebone Village comes from the same winning stable as Roka, Zuma and La Petite Maison.  The pizzas are of the gourmet variety generally and are pretty superb, though the pasta dishes and fish dishes are great favourites too.

Marco Pierre White -- Frankie's Braganza


The other great thing about Italian cuisine is that it lends itself so well to successful and delicious chain restaurants, ranging from the Marco Pierre White’s collaborations with Frankie Dettori – Frankie’s Criterion and Frankie’s Braganza to the terrific Zizzi restaurants that have recently arrived on the toptable website, more than a hundred of them.  Then there are the Bertorelli restaurants, London favourites since 1913, or the Café Pasta set, absolutely perfect for smart casual meals, Carluccio’s many super and popular eateries, the Locale restaurants with their great atmosphere, the dozens of highly-rated Piccolino restaurants right across the country, Fire and Stone in London, Oxford and Portsmouth, the Filini restaurants in the Radisson Hotels, the ubiquitous family favourite Pizza Express, the Spaghetti House landmarks that practically started it all, the home counties’ Sazio restaurants.  Each of them has something very worthwhile.
We celebrate Italian restaurants because they offer super cuisine and a warmth of hospitality that sets the standard.
As the great chef Giorgio Locatelli says, ‘Italians just want to welcome people by sharing what they have, however simple, in abundance.  An Italian’s role in life is to feed people.  A lot.   We can’t help it.’  To that we say amen.