Italian Eating

By Jo Phillips

It may seem that Italian food has been present in the UK forever, in fact, did not actually become commonplace in households until the 1980s. Our love of Pasta is relatively new but how did Italian cuisine make it to our shores and when? Would you be surprised to know that it was here with the Romans, probably not, because it did take several millennia before almost every household would have staples like pizza and pasta in their diets Also, you might be surprised to know that the UK has only really been experimenting with new flavours and food from overseas since the 1960s. The latest (and only) Italian restaurant Cecconi’s opened at destination shopping Bicester Village, a place to meet, greet and carry on the true Italian feasting experience.

Italy as we know it today and like many countries, was only formally unified in the 19th century up until then it would have been regional or even feudal. This meant that cuisine and influences can be traced back to specific areas within a country.

When the Roman Empire conquered Britain, they brought with them not only new foods and animals but more advanced agricultural techniques and introduced the social concept of feasting and banqueting.

In fact, we can credit the Romans for introducing many of our favourite ingredients used today: onions, leeks, garlic, figs, basil, rosemary and, notably, grapes and therefore influencing British wine culture and the subsequent winemaking industry. For many years though it really was only available to those with deep pockets

There is even a story that in 1666, Samuel Pepys, a naval administrator, famously rushed to bury his Parmesan cheeses when the Great Fire of London took hold of the city, highlighting the idea that Italian ingredients were not just enjoyed in Britain but were also rather pricy.

Italian cuisine developed further in their country after the fall of the Roman Empire, as the country divided and formed individual city-states. This period saw the diversification of bread and pasta, with new traditions and methods forming in each region. Think Naples for classic, Neapolitan pizza and Genoa for the origins of pesto.

The customs of Roman-Anglo living also faded in the UK after the Empire’s fall for some time, returning after Sicily’s invasion by the Normans and, centuries later, as many Italians began migrating to Britain. Pasta became a delicacy for families of a middle class or higher status in the 19th century, although wasn’t widely eaten until after the Second World War.

The first Italian restaurant is believed to have been the Italian Eating House, just off Leicester Square in London, which was owned by Venetian Joseph Moretti between 1803 to 1805. Yet the first published reference to an Italian restaurant in the UK is in the Illustrated Times of April 1856; a French and Italian restaurant in Rupert Street, from Louis Stucchi.

It was during the mid-1950s and into the 1960s that the general British public began to find an appreciation of the cuisines of other countries. At the same time as more women went out to work, there was a growing use of easy-to-prepare meals. Tins foods, frozen foods and ready-made meals began to surface alongside a bigger use of take-outs

The new trend for frozen food and ready meals saw a wave of more worldly flavours becoming readily available including core Italian items such as Bolognese and lasagne.

A large part of Italian food’s popularity is its versatility and simple, yet powerful flavours. Products such as dried pasta and spaghetti are inexpensive, travel well and can be stored for months.

As we have been exposed now to far more complex Italian foods our tastes for authentic dishes have been opened wider, nuch of this being down to TV chefs like Antonio Carluccio, Massimo Bottura and Giorgio Locatelli who have bought into our lives brought region and varied dishes into our lives. The consumer has become much more food savvy, pasta and pizza are still loved and are still convenient but add to that really are an array of other items like olive oils, vinegar, antipasti, snacks, and even coffee and ice cream.

This could well be one reason why probably there are now more in way of authentic Italian eateries. One such restaurant is Cecconi’s. Initially opened by Enzo Cecconi, the youngest-ever general manager of the famous Cipriani in Venice, in London in 1978.

From then Londoners were able to order fresh pasta, beef carpaccio, tiramisu, rocket, and Bellini cocktails. Enzo Cecconi believed in spectacular food and spectacular service, bringing theatre into the restaurant by finishing dishes in front of his guests’ eyes.

It was an overnight success and became a magnet for celebrities and royalty serving modern-day classics including handmade pasta, seafood and dishes using the finest Italian ingredients. The restaurant has now outposts in West Hollywood, Miami, Istanbul, Berlin, Barcelona, New York, and Mumbai. But its newest branch can be found at the heavenly destination shopping site Bicester Village.

Now if you love to both Shop and eat Bicester’s new offering is quite a temptation. Known for housing some of the best designers, at the best prices with near on 170 brands (check the extensive list here )on offer there is much to do here to make it a great day or weekend visit.

The menu offers such delights as Zucchini fritti, lemon aioli, Truffle arancini, fontina , Meatballs, tomato sauce, basil, Whipped ricotta, truffle honey, crostini , Sicilian prawns, garlic, chili and that’s only a small selection for starters. Main dishes include

Grilled cauliflower, salsa rossa , Brick chicken, salmoriglio, Salmon, cannellini beans, scarola, Lamb shoulder, polenta, oregano, Seabass, spinach, Castelvetrano, Veal Milanese, Rib eye, roast potatoes, porcini and Beef fillet, artichokes, chard.

Of course, there is a pasta section on the menu and pizza, carpaccio, and tartare as well as cocktails, wines, and delightful deserts. All are accessible all day. But should you wish to start your day eating before shopping there is a breakfast menu.

There are of course comfy banquettes to sink into and the restaurant itself echoes with the warm Tuscan colours we so love. Elegant yet ease pervades the space making it a great part of your Bicester Village experience.

The village is set in the beautiful rolling hills of Oxford, with a train station built especially for visiting the location (as well as ample parking) The Village is a one-stop shop, especially at Christmas. Right now it’s full of seasonal joy with glittering decorations created by WANDA Barcelona to add to the festive mood. WANDA design and builds spaces using traditional techniques, adapt them using state-of-the-art technology.

2,000 years ago, the Roman Empire brought us olive oil and exotic vinegar forever changing the history of British cooking. Unsurprisingly Italian restaurants have frequently come out on top as our favourite type of restaurant to visit. So why not tie your next meal in with some top designer bargains to boot, eat and shop well all at the same time.

To find more about the restaurant at the Village please click Here

If you enjoyed Italian Eating why not read Bailey, the Lens In Him Here

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