Friday, October 9, 2009

The Fat Italian Part I: La Bottega

My Americano with his Americano.

Back when I was a high-powered career woman (ha!), there was one thing I could always count on and look forward to during my work day: lunch. :)
Naturally, there were some days when it was better and some days when it was worse (read: grabbing a Subway Grilled Thai Chicken sandwich as I ran back to the office), but it was always there - a little escape and a little indulgence. Because, let's be honest, nothing makes me happy
like spending money on food.

Alas, those days are over for me, but not so for the good old husband. He goes to the same place almost every single day, and he calls that place "the fat Italian." Everyone else calls it La Bottega. How boring, right? But then again, everyone else doesn't have nearly as good a sense of humor about these things as the husb (no, I'm not biased, just really blunt).

Let's cut to the chase here: sometimes I crawl out of the proverbial cave and make my way with The Master to Chelsea, where I generally love to hang out pretending I can afford all those ridiculously nice boutiques on the King's Road and all those ridiculously beautiful houses everywhere else. On those days, hubby and I meet for lunch. He crawls out of his slightly posher cave (read: in conspicuous proximity to both Tiffany's and Cartier in Sloane Square) and takes me to eat some damn good Italian food with our favorite leather-apron-toting-fatty, Fabio the fat Italian (no relation to you-unfortunately-know-who).

Once there, sitting at our tiny wrought iron table, Italian servers zipping by in the impossibly small locale with immaculately conceived macchiatos and espressos galore, we generally have a meal that both satisfies our mutual and primordial hunger for all things Italian. And besides being culinarily, aesthetically pleasing, La Bottega also provides us with some much needed comic relief and an excuse to flaunt our pathetic-used-to-be-fluent Italian skills. Onto the list. *flash of the hand*

* * *

5 Reasons to Go Meet The Fat Italian
yep, that about says it.

London's (really) Little Italy
The thing about London is that there are probably more foreigners than actual English people in it. Surprisingly, one of the larger immigrant populations is that of the Italians who make their way to the better-paying, job-filled capital of the north en masse. Fabio makes it his business (literally) to hire many of these newly-arrived at his cafe/deli and so your server is guaranteed to always been Italian. No really, always.

Not only are the food and coffee authentic as can be, but the tiny size of La Bottega - the way you have to crowd in, squeeze by other patrons, and are likely to come out with a piece of porchetta stuck to your jacket, is part of the real Italian charm. There is a counter with every imagineable Italian deli meat, cheese, and lots of homemade cold Italian salads. There's another counter full of real Italian pastries and desserts. And the walls as lined with shelves brimming with a million different artisanal Italian products (all for sale, of course), making for a nice decoration.

The pastry section at La Bottega;
nutella-filled sfogliatelle here I come!

And on top of that, it's in the middle of one of the nicest areas in London, right at the end of Lower Sloane Street (a hop skip and jump from a great chocolate shop). What's not to like?

4. Illy. Just another Word for Perfect Coffee.
If you love Italian coffee then you know that it is really hard to replicate a well-made, non-acidic, velvety-smooth epresso at home, much less find one in a restaurant or caffe. And in Anglo countries, it is pretty damn well near impossible. Not so at La Bottega.

First off, they use Illy, which I maintain is the best Italian coffee out there. A full flavor, plenty of natural-sugar schiuma, and none of that Starbucks-esque bitterness I've come to know and hate.

NB: Yes, I know nobody buys it for coffee at home in Italy, but I'm not a big fine of Lavazza, to be honest, and frankly, I also don't care. Because I'm convinced that the reason Italians don't need to buy Illy in Italy is because there's some kind of magical fairy dust in their water that makes the espresso come out perfect every single time.

Secondly, the Italians who make and serve the coffee have been raised making and knowing what a good latte, cappuccino, macchiato, caffe etc. look and taste like. None of this serving a latte with foam, or a cappuccino with steamed milk. They know what you want when you ask for it, and correct you if YOU don't know what you're asking for. And for once, in a world of too much bad service and WAY too much bad coffee, I find that just a little refreshing.

3. Carb-overload: A delicious way to die.
The reason my better half fell in love with La Bottega to begin with is their daily pasta special. Every single day of the week they make and offer-up two fresh, simple Italian pasta dishes. You can get one or the other or a combo plate if you're really a glutton (yep, that's what I always get).

The Italian deli at La Bottega;
order your combo plate from Fabio here.

The pasta is always perfectly cooked, and perfectly paired with the right kind of sauce. Whether it is bolognese and fusili, or orrechiete in a cream and ham sauce, the dishes are painfully simple, the sauces unpretentious and cooked on the premises. When they run out, they run out. They give you bread, are not stingy with the parmiggiano, and let me tell you, as fat and full as you may feel
afterwards that pasta is worth every single pound. Pun intended.

2. To Meet the Fat Italian.

You'll know who he is when you walk in. He's the fat cat in town, so to speak (and weirdly he actually kind of looks like Tiger from Fievel).

He's the only one behind the counter proudly donning a manly, brown leather apron. He's jolly and friendly and loves his Italian food. He makes the rounds constantly, greeting regulars (and there are lots of them) and gossiping with other compatriots. He's the louder more jovial half of the La Bottega partnership (the other guy works at their Knightsbridge location) and loves to show it.

May I be so bold as to draw a cheesy metaphor?

Fabio the Fat Italian is like the chunk of Parmigiano you secretly throw in while slaving over a home-cooked batch of Bolognese sauce: rich in flavor, spice, and local color -- without him, the dish is nothing but a commonplace, overdone Italian dish that everyone's heard of and has eaten a million times. With him, the dish is complete and one of a kind, a sacred staple recipe that everyone begs for. Like I said, it's worth going just to get a glimpse. :)

1. The
Fabio and his crew make a meeeeeeeeann (and I mean mean) Tiramisù. And for the record, the emphasis is on the last vowel, not the "i" (as most Americans seem to annoyingly think and therefore pronounce).

Having eaten the infamous Italian dessert on many an occasion, it took a fat Italian man with a leather apron and his cronies to finally make me realize what really makes Tiramisù work (you know, work. Pop. Hit the proverbial umami spot): lots and lots of zabaglione!

At La Bottega, you get an individual to-go dish when you order tiramisù. In it you will find all the predictable musts: lady fingers soaked in delectable espresso and coffee liquer, powdered cocoa, and that yellowish brown creamy stuff with a hint of marsala wine. The appeal of this particular dessert, however, is that in the case of the Fat Italian, the lady fingers are literally swimming in the creamy stuff. I always thought tiramisù was stiffer, more biscuit than cream. How wrong I was!

oh for the (Fat, Italian) love - the zabaglione!

The superior quality and copious quantity of zabaglione is what makes the Fat Italian's
Tiramisù stand out head and shoulders above the rest. It was good. Good in that sinful, takes-me-back-to-Italy kind of way that I rarely experience in this freaking-fracking country. So good, in fact, that I decided to whip a batch up myself thereafter.

Stay tuned for results...

* * *

La Bottega
65 Lower Sloane Street
London SW1W 8DH

Tel: +44 (0)20 7730 8844

Follow Me on Pinterest


  1. Oh great, now you got me craving Italian and some good coffee. Ironically when we were in Dublin we found this very nice Italian spot and settled in for some wonderful coffee. We'd heard rumors it (coffee in Ireland) was bad, but that was not our experience.

    I can understand your fantasies - when I lived in London, I used to have them to, and based on your descriptions I think I wandered the same streets/ =)

  2. I want that Tiramisù! One day, I will make the Fat Italian's acquaintance - as well as those of his pasta, pastries and coffee. 8-)