THE HISTORY OF ITALIAN RESTAURANTS IN BRITAIN

"A WORK IN PROGRESS"

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In England and Wales, the 1871 census recorded an Italian population of 5,063 and by 1911 this number was 20,389. In Scotland, census returns for these years were 268 and 4,594 Italians respectively.

The Italian community in London dates back to the eighteenth century. These were mainly educated political refugees and settled around Clerkenwell and Holborn in London. The first restaurant we know of was run by Joseph Moretti who was born in Venice in 1773. He ran an 'Italian Eating House, just off Leicester Square from 1803-1805 according to his descendent Colin. Moretti married Jane Bargman in 1799 and John Baptiste Pagliano married Sarah Bargman in 1798. Pagliano, born in Piedmont in 1774, established an hotel in St Martins Street called Newton's(1799) and later owned The Sabloniere in Leicester Suare which was renowned for its catering.

Sabloniere Hotel 29-31 Leicester Square "where there is good cheer after the Italian manner" George Augustus Sala 1859. Originally owned by Antoinette de la Sabloniere who went bankrupt in 1796 and vacated 1797. 1799 purchased by Louis Jaquier and later taken over by Pagliano with a lease from Charles Augustus Tulk. This expired 1869 and hotel then demolished. The Archbishop Tenison School was erected on the site and remained there until 1928.Orinally part of Hogarth's house whose wife stayed there until 1789. In the Census of 1841 Charles Pagliano was aged 40 and his wife Mary 31. Hans Christian Andeersen spent his first night there in 1847 and Peter the Great lodged there with his companion the Marquis of Carmarthaen. 17/3/1798 John Baptiste Pagliano married Sara Bargman at Lincolns Inn Fields then to Martha Hilton 17/9/1805 who died 31/8/1840.Son Charles Joseph Pagliano, a prominent Cathlic and supporter of charities (died 12.8.1861) of St Martins in the Field married Mary Famenias Floris in 26.7.1830 (died 18.4.1846).

The family continued to run it until 1845. Pagliano originally came to England in 1774 where he was employed as a cook to the Venetian Ambassador. By 1881 there were 3500 Italians in London and by 1901 the number had risen dramatically to 11,000.

From the 1820s to 1851 Sponza accounts for 4000 Italian immigrants in England, with 50% of them living in London. The regional origins of most were the valleys around Como, and Lucca. The people from Como were skilled artisans, making barometers and other precision instruments. People from Lucca specialized in plaster figure making. By the 1870s the main regional origins of Italian emigration to Britain were the valleys of Parma in the north, and the Liri valley, half way between Rome and Naples. A railway network had been started by this time and this helped the people from the Liri valley to migrate to the North of Italy, and then on to Britain. The people from Parma were predominately organ grinders, while the Neapolitans from the Liri valley (now under Lazio) made ice cream. According to Sponza's research, the occupational structure of the immigrants, up to the 1870s, remained "substantially the same."

There was obviously, However, an interest in Italian cuisine as several entries were noted in PO London Directory in 1851 including Charles Gatti Pastrycook (see below), Luigi Previtali, Italian Hotel, 15 Arundel Street, V Guardetti, Secretary Italian Club of the Culinary Art in St Martins Street. Bertolini's at 32 St Martins Lane is noted in Cruchlys London 1865 and Solferino at 7 Rupert Street in Routledge's Popular Guide 1873.

The centre of the Italian community in Britain throughout the 19th Century, and indeed to the present day, is 'Little Italy' situated in a part of London called Clerkenwell. Sponza's description of its existence then, from an 1854 print, is of a "warren of streets around Hatton Garden." Dickens' Oliver Twist and Gustave Dore's prints of London at that time fill in the images. As numbers increased and competition grew fiercer, so Italians spread to the north of England, Wales and Scotland. They were never in great numbers in the northern cities. For example, the Italian Consul General in Liverpool, in 1891, is quoted as saying that the majority of the 80-100 Italians in the city were organ grinders and street sellers of ice-cream and plaster statues. And that the 500-600 Italians in Manchester included mostly Terrazzo specialists, plasterers and modellers working on the prestigious, new town hall. While in Sheffield 100-150 Italians made cutlery.

According to Sponza, of the 1000 or so Italians in Wales at the end of the 19th century a third of them worked as seamen on British ships, a third worked in jobs that serviced shipping, such as ships chandlers, seamen's lodgings etc., and most of the rest worked in the coal mines. In 1861, according to Sponza, there were 119 Italians in Scotland, the majority of them in Glasgow. By 1901 the Italian population was 4051. By this time the Italian communities were becoming more affluent. The Italian Scottish community was "&ldots;almost all engaged in small food shops - either ice cream shops or fish restaurants" and because of the cut throat saturated market in Glasgow, were prepared to move out into the smaller provinces and cities. (Source: Italian Immigrants in Nineteenth Century Britain: Reality and Images © Leicester University Press, 1988, Lucio Sponza.)

In England and Wales, the 1871 census recorded an Italian population of 5,063 and by 1911 this number was 20,389. In Scotland, census returns for these years were 268 and 4,594 Italians respectively.

45 Dean Street Soho had been a restaurant since 1880 but the building is perhaps most famously remembered as Gennaro’s. Here such luminaries as the Kings of Greece, Yugoslavia and Siam dined alongside Caruso and Dame Nellie Melba. An advertisement from 1930 calls the restaurant as "the place where you are greeted with a Smile and a Flower". Up until his death Gennaro would greet his guests at the door to present each female diner with a red rose. With Gennaro’s death, though it remained an Italian restaurant, 45 Dean Street fell in to disrepair, there was little proof of its glamorous past when The Groucho Club purchased the site in 1984.

The Italian community in London dates back to the early nineteenth century. These were mainly educated political refugees and settled around Clerkenwell and Holborn in London. By 1881 there were 3500 and by 1901 the number had risen dramatically to 11,000.
The first widely publicised Italian connection with catering came when Swiss Italian Carlo Gatti started selling ice cream in London in 1850. His product rapidly became famous and he died a millionaire in 1870. Over one hundred years later the frozen ice cream industry is worth over £2.6 billion a year. Pursuing the catering connection Terroni & Son opened in Clerkenwell Road in 1890 and G. Gazzano & Son in Farringdon Road in 1901.
One of the earliest restaurants, which doubled as a delicatessen, was Salvo Jure which opened in Brushfield Street E1 in 1859 near the Spitalfield Market. From the 1890’s onwards a new grouping of Italian immigrants began to settle around Soho in London following the hotel and restaurant trades. The Italian Society of Mutual Aid for Hotel and Restaurant Employees was actually set up in 1886 in Gerrard Street, now centre of London’s Chinatown. Many of these new immigrants worked in London’s restaurants and then started their own restaurant as did the four Bertorelli brothers who created Bertorelli’s in Charlotte Street in 1913.

The Contis, Rossis, Sidolis, Basinis, Gazzis, Servinis and so on come from the plains of northern Emilia-Romagna. Much of the Italian population of south Wales and elsewhere in UK hales from Bardi in Emilia-Romagna over a century ago, having forsaken their poverty-stricken homeland for Britain's 'gold-lined' streets The Bernis (later famous for Berni Inns), the Rabaiottis, the Sidolis and the Bracchis as well. Indeed, 'bracchi' is still a generic name in Wales for a café.

By 1911 there were 12,000 Italians in London which had fallen to 11,000 by 1921 after the First World War. Gradually Italian restaurants became fashionable such as Leoni’s Quo Vadis in Dean Street (1926) - recently sold to Marco Pierre White and converted - Bertorelli’s and Quaglino’s. In 1934 Pizza Paradiso opened in Store Street WC1 followed by Ristorante Italiano in Curzon Street W1 in 1936.

The Second World War was a major setback for the industry as Britain went to war with Germany and Italy The Second World War proved a tricky time for the UK's Italian community. Churchill's instruction to imprison every Italian male between the ages of 16 and 70 as an enemy alien ("Collar the lot!" he famously said, after Mussolini joined forces with Hitler in June 1940) created general panic and considerable antipathy. By 1951 there were still only 10,000 Italians in London. Gradually they became accepted as part of London’s cosmopolitan life again and Italian restaurants boomed, pushing out of London all over Britain.

From 1950s to 1970s new waves of Italians came into Britain to fill the employment gaps in industry and agriculture and to a lesser extent in the catering industry. Many people from Emilia Romagna came to London in the 1950s through ‘chain migration’ - that is they were connected through family ties to the 19th century Italian colony of Clerkenwell. This colony had established itself in the catering industry, running the classic fish and chips shops and workmen’s cafes. They provided a support network to people from Emilia Romagna by guaranteeing them a place to live and a job so that they could be issued with a 4 year work permit from the Home Office.

By 1960s, many Italians were able to afford their own cafes and restaurants that had the classic Formica counters, symbol of consumer culture in Britain. They worked very long hours for decades in order to afford their own homes and their children’s education. They were responsible for introducing Italian cuisine to Britain, from spaghetti Bolognese in the early 1960s to the introduction of ciabatta bread in the early 1980s.

La Trattoria Terrazza, opened in 1959 by two former waiters Mario Cassandro and Franco Lagattolla, is considered to be one of the first restaurants serving authentic Italian cuisine. Alvaro Maccioni left the restaurant to set up La Famiglia in London in the 1960s serving Tuscan food. A former head chef at La Trattoria Terrazza, Oswaldo Antoniazzi now works at Giorgio Locatelli’s Locanda Locattelli.

PIZZA

In 1993, while renovating an Italian restaurant that he had just bought on London's Store Street, Giovanni Salamone came across an ancient shoe box hidden away in a dusty cupboard under the stairs. Inside there was a menu. In the history of the British pizza the find was akin to Carter and Carnarvon's discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb. 'Most of the menu was just home made pasta dishes,' says Giovanni. 'But it also included a Margherita pizza. We think that menu dates from the earliest days of the restaurant.' The restaurant, Olivelli's, was a favourite among the London theatre world and first opened in 1934; that crumbling piece of paper is the first evidence of a pizza on sale in Britain. Fittingly Giovanni renamed the restaurant Pizza Paradiso Olivelli and it became the first in what is now a chain of pizzerias.

Naples, where the world's first pizzeria opened in 1830 and where the Margherita was invented in 1889 in honour of the then Italian queen, had been a regular staging post on the aristocracy's Grand Tour from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. London has also had a large Italian community, which was 11,000 strong by the turn of the twentieth century. Clearly none of them thought of opening a pizzeria. New York Style pizza was served at Carmino Pizzeria in Frith Street. Pizza Express was purchased by Peter Boizot from Margareta Zampi in 1965 with debts of £14,000 and opened the second Pizza Express in Wardour Street. Pizzaland opened in the 1970's and Pizza Hut from USA in 1973. By 1986 there were 200.

Charlotte Street W1 is the site of the original Bertorelli's founded over 90 years ago (1912) by the Bertorelli family

The Spaghetti House first opened in 1955 in London

First San Rocco restaurant opened in 1971 in Manchester

Birmingham's oldest Italian is La Galleria, which opened in 1977

Newcastle-upon-Tyne's first Italian opened in 1965. Pasqualino Fulgenzi is still at the helm at the Roma, in Collingwood Street

Salvos in Leeds opened 1976

By 1971 there were 30,000 Italians in London and many more thousands all over the country, most of whom were still involved in the catering industry. By 1998 there were some 5000 Italian restaurants in Britain, 2900 of which were pasta or pizza establishments and the balance full service restaurants with an annual turnover approaching £1 billion. The pasta market alone in 1997 was worth £571 million and major chains have grown up such as Pizza Hut, Bella Pasta and, more recently, ASK, Its and Est Est Est and there is every sign that growth will continue fuelled by Spanish and Portuguese moving into what they see as a profitable sector.

Epicures Almanack (1815) pp 152-155 (courtesy of Colin Moretti)

Pagliano's

A few doors from Brunet’s Hotel, there is a large establishment rendered conspicuous by the

following label in staring capitals, SABLONIÈRE, which inscription is an obvious absurdity. La

Sablonière is the name of the once famous cook in Paris, whose performances on the spit, gridiron,

and kitchen dresser, were so much admired, that his rivals and followers, by way of obtaining a

share of his custom, used to announce that they gave dinners à la Sablonière. Such was the

announcement here! but some John Bull of a house-painter retrenched the article at the expense of

propriety, and for the sake of brevity. This house is now kept by Signor Pagliano, who is himself,

perhaps as good a cook as the noted La Sablonière. Make the experiment, and you will at all events

find his establishment the most excellent and reasonable house for getting a good dinner either in

the French, English, or Italian style. Mr Pagliano has another and a cheaper house near at hand in

St Martins Street which house was the very identical residence of our great Sir Isaac Newton. His

observatory is still to be seen on the roof. One of our coadjutors, by way of experiment – did

penance here (as the Spaniards say when they make a feast of a dinner) by bill of fare, at the

following moderate expense.

 

It is one of the heaviest charges made against John Bull that when he intends to fare well, he cannot

help crying out “roast beef”. We caution him, that when at this or any other house, he sees

announced in the bill of fare, a stewed lion, or a roasted owl, he do hold his tongue, preserve every

muscle in his jolly countenance undistorted, lift not for his bushy eye-brows, but quietly order up

some of the lion or owl. He will find either dish excellent fare; the one is like hare and the other

like partridge as gold is like to gold. But he must not say aught for or against the game-lairs or

poachers; he must use his teeth and hold his tongue; he must not say as Pistol1 did, and as he

sometimes used to do, when bad news annoyed him, “eat; and eat; and swear”.