Sunday 20th July sees Clerkenwell’s annual procession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel – otherwise known as London’s Italian parade. Clerkenwell, in particular the areas surrounding Saffron Hill, Hatton Garden and Rosebery Avenue, was once the epicentre of a thriving Italian community. At the turn of the 19th century, there was thought to be over 12,000 living in London, with Clerkenwell the capital’s very own Little Italy. The hub of Italian life was St Peter’s church: constructed with the help of exiled national hero Giuseppe Mazzini, it was the first basilica-style church in the UK. Today, the Romanesque arches of this ornate house of worship marks the starting point of the procession, when the abundant tricolours and mouth-watering aroma of polenta and cinghiale sausages transform EC1 into a little pocket of the Mediterranean. Thousands line the streets to cheer on the parade patrons – their questionable costumes and dodgy makeup giving the Biblical recreations a touch of school play feel fun. But it doesn’t matter if you’re not religious; the feast day is a celebration of Italian London’s émigré heritage and culture. With that in mind, here’s our roundup of the best of Italian London.
Right next door to St Peter’s, England’s oldest deli Terroni has been serving London’s Italian community for nearly as long. Founded by Luigi Terroni in 1878, there’s scarcely an Italian in the capital who hasn’t visited. Be sure to grab some cannoli for watching the festa in full flow.
Along with Terroni, E. Pelicci is one of the city’s venerable old Italian institutions. Chirpy host Nevio, grandson of founder Priamo, presides over this timeless grade II listed café on the Bethnal Green Road. Pop in for a natter and some of Maria’s famous spaghetti bolognaise. If you ask nicely, you can even have a gander at Pelicci’s impressive celebrity photo album.
Besides Clerkenwell, the other big Italian conurbation was Soho. Back when rock and roll was king, the Italian coffee bar was the height of cool. And they didn’t come much cooler than Bar Italia. This pokey little joint on Frith Street has been serving up the best cappuccino in town since 1949. It’s also open till 5 in the morning, so any late-night Soho revellers can nip in for a java injection while they wait for tube to open.
Children the world over can thank our brothers from the boot for that essential summer ingredient – ice-cream! Genuine Italian gelato though is the Lamborghini of desserts – the Serie A to Mr Whippy’s Eccellenza. Gelupo on Archer Street (little sister to the excellent Bocca Di Lupo opposite) serves an artisan selection of gelati, granita and sorbets fresh every day.
Next to food and fashion, the other national passion for Italians is undoubtedly football. With something of a penchant for the beautiful game ourselves, we Brits can appreciate the importance of a decent boozer showing live footy. Marino’s in Fitzrovia is the unofficial London base for Juventus fans. As well as the bianconeri, you can catch most Serie A games here and the place really comes alive when the national team play. Forza Italia!
We put this in merely because it's one of our favourite Italian restaurants in London, and in our opinion one of the most authentic – a newish place that somehow manages to give the impression that it's been here forever. It serves fantastic food and wine form most italian regions, and we love their deep-fried Roman fritti, cotechino sausage, creamy polenta and gutsy pasta sauces, and... well, just about everything really.
OK so we’re cheating a little here but The Kings Head Theatre Pub on Angel’s Upper Street is one of the capital’s more quirky settings for that most quintessential Italian of arts – opera. Introduced in 2010 in association with acclaimed resident production company OperaUpClose, The King’s Head has shown classics such as Tosca and their Olivier-award-winning production of La Boheme. With tickets from as little as £10, this is a great alternative to the pricier West End venues.