Tucked away within a hidden square of Vauxhall, Italo had been on My List for years, having remotely lusted over its daily-changing menu on Instagram for months, yet somehow failing to plan a visit despite not living far from the area. This stylish coffee shop and deli sits on the corner of Bonnington Square and has been serving locals for over a decade. With a crowd of chic liberal city folk, classic tunes from the 80s and 90s playing out, as well as a resident cat, it feels like you’re in a different city and time period. A total escape.
As soon as I stepped foot back in Bonnington Square, with its tropical palm trees and bohemian vibe, I think I fell in love with it and Italo. Co-founded a little more than a decade ago by Charlie Boxer in the 1980s it what was then a squatter stronghold, Italo has a rough-and-ready edge so distinctive to SW8. Through a host of supper clubs, its small kitchen has nurtured talents including Emily Dobbs, creator of Sri Lankan food stall Weligama. As well as selling everything from Italian biscuits to specialty olive oil and tinned tomatoes, this spot serves some of the best lunches you can get in the area (and in London for that matter). All at incredibly affordable prices.
The menu changes daily, ranging from, on our visit, focaccias filled rainbow chard, vesuvio tomatoes and chilli fried eggs (£9.50) to a plate of spiced yogurt, grilled friggitelli peppers, green tahini sauce and smoked almonds (£9.50). My companion and I both went for the latter – mine without the yogurt to make vegan.
The plate was visual and textural joy: the peppers grilled to perfection to offer that smokey finish, a vividly green herby sauce as bright in flavour as its colour, and almonds generously scattered above to leave a proper crunchy bite. What’s more, crispy garlic was topped all over – a must on any dish with toast. On that note, this freshly made sourdough had a crust of dreams and a melt-in-the mouth interior slathered in the green tahini sauce.
The only caveat to the experience is the wooden cutlery offered: toasted sourdough can definitely not be cut with fork and knife of this material…A hand-eating experience for sure. But that’s the vibe of the place for you: you queue to order and the wait can be a bit long, making for a bit of a DIY experience.
Most importantly, though, the food has a kind of European simplicity to it – a short menu, quality ingredients, all unfussingly put together. With the sun out, it’s a magnificent spot place to enjoy an al fresco brekkie / brunch / lunch. Plus an Italian coffee. Italo is one of the best examples of the charms of a sunlit, magic-realist version of London in all its messy, contradictory glory. Like its square, it’s a real hidden gem.
Italo, 13 Bonnington Square, London SW8 1TE