The Italian wine regions setting London alight

Francesco Mazzei of Sartoria

It’s easy to see why Italian food has been embraced so enthusiastically in London lately. As our political situation becomes ever more precarious, and our economy more fragile, people are seeking comfort, and what could be more comforting than a giant bowl of pasta? The beauty of Italian food lies in its simplicity. Italians know that great tasting food needn’t break the bank.

But it needs to be made with high-quality, fresh, seasonal ingredients – a food philosophy the Italians have championed for centuries. The new wave of Italian venues in London aim to recreate the comfort of ‘mamma’s’ home cooking in an elegant and refined manner. “Italian food is simple, tasty and great value for money, which is a winning formula in London,” says Stefano d’Andrea of Luca. He adds: “The Italian tradition of spending hours at the table is a bit of a contradiction in London but it somehow seems to work.”

Ristorante Frescobaldi in Mayfair

Italophile Jacob Kenedy of Bocca di Lupo believes holidays in Italy have played their part in the recent renaissance of Italian restaurants in the UK.

“Brits go to Italy in their droves because it’s heaven. Italian restaurants became a bit hackneyed in the ‘90s, but new players have come along and repackaged Italian cuisine in a refreshing and appealing way,” he says.

For de Fenzo of Frescobaldi, it’s the simple fact that Italians do it better. “We get a lot of tailors coming to our restaurant because we’re near Savile Row.

We serve them pasta with black truffle and they fall in love with it,” he says. Simms of Sartoria, meanwhile, believes the appeal of Italian food lies in its universality. “I don’t know a single nationality that doesn’t like Italian food.

The root of the cuisine – tomatoes, lemons, olive oil – is universal and appeals to everyone,” he says. Buoyed by the Italian food boom, Italian wines are thriving in the UK on-trade.

When both still and sparkling wines are taken into account, Italy is the top-selling wine country in the sector, propelled by super-seller Prosecco. A whopping 5.5 million cases of Italian wine were sold in the UK on-trade last year, and the country achieved value sales of £1.1 billion, according to the latest figures from on-trade specialists CGA Strategy.

While Italy has always been the jewel in Liberty’s crown, Gleave reports that its Italian wine sales are in double-digit growth. Encouragingly, sales aren’t just coming from London-based Italian restaurants. Half of Liberty’s Italian wine sales come from outside of the capital, and half of the wines are sold to non-Italian restaurants. In London, the likes of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Maze, The Wolseley, Berners Tavern, China Tang and Lorne are all championing Italian wines on their lists.

“There’s a sense among sommeliers now that you need a good Italian wine offering on any fine wine list that aspires to be taken seriously,” says Gleave. But as rosy as the picture might seem, the inevitability of Brexit is casting a long shadow. The uncertainty surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU has led to rising restaurant rents, a dip in the value of the pound and an exodus of talented European staff, so the months ahead won’t be easy for anyone who operates in the on-trade.

“London will always be London, but many Italians are moving back home due to the uncertainty in the UK on-trade at the moment,” says Stevie Kim, managing director of Vinitaly, who believes that for Italian wine brands to weather the storm, they need to find innovative and targeted ways to tell their brand stories in the UK. Whatever the future holds, for now at least, London’s love affair with Italy remains red hot.

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