Cafe Britaly, restaurant review: British Italian food that’s not at all annoying

Britalian carbonara is sure to upset some nonnas  (Cafe Britaly)
Britalian carbonara is sure to upset some nonnas (Cafe Britaly)

One summer while I was home from university I worked at my friend’s dad’s little Italian BYOB restaurant in southwest London. As well as serving up scrumptious and vastly portioned pizzas, bruschettas, pastas and risottos every evening, each morning it was a greasy spoon.

You had your usual fare of fry-ups, omelettes and things on toast, but you could also get deep-fried pizza with tomato sauce, lasagna or cannelloni and chips. Think: very British grub with a little Italian chef’s kiss.

It’s a concept I’m familiar with, so when I heard about Cafe Britaly in Peckham, which celebrates “Britain’s love affair with Italian food”, I was intrigued.

They – being Richard and Alex who have both worked at Bocca di Lupo as general manager and senior sous chef respectively – have put a little more thought into the idea of British and Italian fusion than simply adding chips to a dish. The aim is to make “Italian dishes more British, and British dishes more Italian”.

In some ways, there are echoes of the cafe I worked in all those years ago. It’s a small place, with tables packed closely together, the grease from the fryers escaping the open kitchen and cloaking the room in a familiar smokeyness, and there are things with chips on the menu.

One notable difference is staff are smiley, friendly and not at all grumpy.

One of those “things with chips” is a fish finger sandwich – battered coley, tartare sauce, salsa rossa and rocket. With the lightly battered, crunchy fish contrastingly encased in a lovely soft bap, it’s a tasty elevation of a childhood classic, and priced at £12 you get a lot of bang for your buck.

The tartare sauce is packed full of flavour while the salsa rossa doesn’t quite sing, which made me slightly think if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (ie stick to Heinz ketchup when appropriate).

The main dishes are tasty elevations of childhood classics (Lilly Subbotin)
The main dishes are tasty elevations of childhood classics (Lilly Subbotin)

The hot, salty chips are faultless and I eagerly dip them in my guest’s bubbling “green lasagna”, a lighter version of the classic with green pasta, courgette, a broccoli ragu and a cheddar white sauce.

It’d probably upset a lot of Italians, but then again, the concept of this entire cafe would – and that’s not the point. It’s delicate yet rich and is a nice alternative to those fancying something a little less greasy-spoon-esque.

Speaking of grease, there’s the pizzetta crunch – a deep fried margarita pizza. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tasty, but probably not the wisest thing to order before a fried fish and fried potato-heavy main. The texture is as the name suggests and the tomato sauce is heavenly, I just wish there was a little more of it to balance out the swathes of battered pizza dough.

Cocktails are there to counterbalance the food... and offer some hair of the dog (Lilly Subbotin)
Cocktails are there to counterbalance the food... and offer some hair of the dog (Lilly Subbotin)

This a clear homage to the pizza crunches of Scotland and true to fashion it leaves a little pool of oil on the greaseproof paper beneath it.

Basically, this is a great place to nurse a hangover, and there are pretty little fizzy cocktails to counterbalance the food and offer some hair of the dog – the south London spritz, prosecco, red citrus, aromatic herbs and soda is just what you need if you’re after the latter. Not too boozy and really refreshing.

They’ve since added a bloody mary served with gherkin brine to the menu which I’ll definitely be ordering next time I’m in Peckham.

They also do a “Britalian” carbonara which comes with a fried egg on top; a ’nduja scotch egg; a full English that comes with fried pizza dough; mackerel bruschetta accompanied by pickled onions; and a porchetta roast on Sundays served with salsa verde.

The theme works and flows through the menu in a satisfying but not in-your-face way, summed up beautifully in the maritozzo – an Italian cream bun covered with fresh British strawberries and strawberry coulis. A beautiful marriage of something quintessentially English and classically Italian. Washed down with a double espresso, it’s a decadent and delightful end to a rather charming meal.

Apparently Britalian cuisine has been around for 2,000 years; since the Romans founded Londinium. I think Cafe Britaly is doing a stellar job of adding to something and updating it without making it annoying, which can so often happen when something traditionally cheap is hiked with a massive mark up just because they’ve added some dried flowers to the table and serve London-brewed craft beer.

Managing to be inventive and not take itself too seriously, nor has it succumbed to measly portion sizes, I’ll happily add this place to my list of cafes to go to when I’m feeling a little worse for wear and need something to blow off the cobwebs.

Our rating: ★★★☆☆

Around £85 for two people with three courses and a cocktail

Cafe Britaly, 191 Rye Ln, London, SE15 4TP | 020 7358 0735 |