“A lot of Italian restaurants in London have lost touch with their roots. I say to my chefs that if you can cook like your mother then you are a good chef, but if you can cook like your grandmother then you are a great chef.” Alvaro Maccioni
He’s described as the Godfather of Italian cuisine. In restaurant circles he’s quite simply a legend. Alvaro Maccioni was one of the first chefs to insist on only using fresh seasonal produce and to this day, other prominent Italian chefs still use him to source the best available produce for their own restaurants. Alvaro’s insistence on perfection in every aspect of his restaurant business has kept La Famiglia in the spotlight for over thirty years.
They say that the Tuscans are the most Italian of all Italians and Alvaro was born in Florence. His father was a food wholesaler and from an early age Alvaro became involved in the restaurant and hotel business. Alvaro knew from an early age that the food from his home could prove a sensation abroad and he soon set his sights on England.
In 1957 he arrived in London and trained at the famous Mirabelle restaurant where he met up with fellow Italian restaurant entrepreneurs, Mario Cassandro and Franco Lagattolla. They joined forces to run the first Tuscan restaurant in London’s West End called La Terrazza. With its authentic dishes, informal style and its cool and modern interior, La Terrazza became the most famous and influential place to eat Italian cuisine in London. This Italian trio, Mario, Franco and Alvaro were to food what Gianni Agnelli was to cars and Sophia Loren was to glamour. La Terrazza was an immediate success; the talk of the town. Everyone from Hollywood royalty, Gregory Peck, Sammy Davis Jr, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor to showbiz royalty like Michael Caine, Terence Stamp, Albert Finney to real royalty like Princess Margaret, frequented the place. La Terrazza became a sensation and attracted celebrities the world over.
By 1966, Alvaro was ready to go it alone and he relocated to the up and coming trendy, King’s Road to open up his own place he simply called “Alvaro’s”. The celebrity clientele followed and soon the name of Alvaro’s was the most popular table in town:
“The name Alvaro’s is whispered from the studios of showbiz to the courts of Royalty,” London Life was quoted as saying.
He had achieved his dream of creating the best Italian food outside of Italy itself. Alvaro had stayed ahead of the game by buying from the best suppliers; the produce had to be of the highest, freshest quality. He was one of the first chefs to create the idea of genuine Italian food at affordable prices; you didn’t need a celebrity income to dine there; everyone was welcome. Alvaro’s job was to educate the people to the diversity of Italian cuisine. His restaurant was the first to serve classic Tuscan food like wild boar prosciutto and oven-roast kid with rosemary, garlic and thyme. ‘Alvaro’s’ became so successful that the man himself decided to take its number out of the phone directory.
Soon he opened his own nightclub, the enormously popular, Aretusa and also opened a chain of restaurants. He sold his empire in 1972 and returned to Italy for a break.
Missing the buzz of London he returned with a vengeance three years later to open ‘a small place here that would tick over,’ at the World’s End location on the King’s Road. The legend that is La Famiglia was born and the rest is history…
*Permission kindly granted by Alasdair Scott Sutherland, author of The Spaghetti Tree.