If one of the world’s great cuisines can be described as ubiquitous, it is surely Italian. Pasta, pizza, ice cream and coffee: all are quintessentially Italian and all are available in more or less any town or city in the world, from Addis Ababa to Zürich.
In fact, as Ethiopia was occupied by Italy for five years, Addis has a strong Italian influence and Castelli’s – founded in 1948 by Francesco, a soldier who defected from Mussolini’s army – is perhaps its best restaurant: excellent home-made pasta served in four old-fashioned, wood-panelled rooms.
Part of Italy’s international success is its cuisine’s versatility. There cannot be two more different places to eat in London than L’Amorosa, a trattoria near Ravenscourt Park, and L’Anima Café, a big, brash City joint: both are new, both serve their clienteles admirably and both are Italian to the core.
L’Amorosa, is not Italian, but having manned the stoves at the Michelin-starred Zafferano in Knightsbridge for 15 years, he might as well be. His new restaurant is a real gem: unpretentious, with a simple, beautifully cooked menu served by friendly staff, and a short but well-chosen wine list. A non-Italian chef, perhaps, would combine the specialities of two regions, in this case Puglia and Sicily, on one plate, but the result was heavenly, as was a salad of roasted beetroots and baby spinach, scattered with toasted hazelnuts.
Lunch featured a perfect slab of burrata with an irresistibly squidgy dollop of aubergine caponata. Then to Tuscany: home-made pappardelle, its billowing pleats bathed in a perfectly judged ragù of ox cheek; and burrata again, this time as the filling for malfatti, with a richly flavoursome tomato sauce. A bottle of Bisceglia Falanghina 2013, floral and sappy, washed everything down splendidly: I cannot recommend L’Amorosa highly enough.
L’Anima Café (pictured) is the offshoot of Francesco Mazzei’s cool and stylish L’Anima: it occupies part of the same building, although with a separate entrance. Were you not to peer through the glass and see the gigantic, mosaic-tiled pizza oven, or spot the bread trolley laden with focaccia, grissini and about a dozen other breads, the Lambretta parked outside would confirm the restaurant’s nationality.
The pizza is excellent: crisp-based and utterly glorious, the crust scorched, the cheese molten and the ’nduja – the deep-red, chilli-spiked soft sausage from Mazzei’s native Calabria – adding a muscular kick. There is a café and deli at one end of the room, and a big, square bar at the other: but be warned, its sound system is nearly as powerful as the ’nduja.