Jermyn Street, London

For over 300 years Jermyn Street has been home to the finest tailors, cobblers and craftsmen in London. The birthplace of London’s West End, it’s as quintessentially British as Mary Poppins, fish and chips and cups of tea – just with the addition of
an Italian institution occupying No.61. Standing proud at the end of the street with its British racing green awning and continental-style pavement tables, this St James’s stalwart is far from incongruous. Largely because, well, when have you ever seen an ill-dressed Italian?

Said to be London’s first Italian restaurant, the original incarnation of Franco’s flung open its heavy wooden doors in 1945, at a time when eggs, meat and dairy were being severely rationed in post-war Britain. There was certainly no fun, frivolity or fine food. Rumoured to be owned by the Mafia, Franco’s quickly became the only place in the capital to feast on platefuls of prohibited items or trade black-market goods in the basement. For the last 15 years Franco’s has been

in the trusted hands of the Hambro family (who have no Mafia connections, we might add). Gone is the illicit basement and in its place, a well-stocked wine cellar. After an extensive refurb (from interior designer Cheah Rothe, of Claridge’s and The Connaught fame), so are some of the former stuffy interiors. In their place are walls covered with palm-print wallpaper that evokes the Italian Riviera, dotted with portraits of previous patrons (and the odd Mafioso) that nod to its storied past. The newly opened-up lobby and bar is bedecked with sleek grey wood that brings the whole look up to date.

In the kitchen, head chef Stefano Turconi has crafted a menu that tours the length and breadth of Italy. We start in the fragrant streets of Positano with a portion of fresh hand-picked crab with avocado, heavy with citrussy flavours, before travelling across to Naples for lasagne thick with béchamel and topped with chunky mozzarella slices. An indulgent lamb ragù sprinkled over ribbon-like pappardelle offers a taste of Tuscany, and comes with bowls laden with courgette fritters so light that the batter flakes elegantly to the floor with each bite. To finish, a puffed-up Sicilian cannolo with pistachio ice cream is, put simply, the don.

020 7499 2211,

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