One could argue that the best Italian food in the world is at any Italian Mama's table, no matter which country that may be. With the happy and very vocal family assembled, the bread sliced, the tomatoes dressed with olive oil and the huge pot of pasta plonked down in the middle so everybody can dig in, there is no better Italian food to be had anywhere. But for those of us who don't have the benefit of an invitation to such an event, we can at least visit restaurants all over the globe where the food will satisfy our souls and fill our bellies.
So where is the best Italian food in the world outside of Italy? Every person who has travelled will have their own opinions but we looked around and came up with a few suggestions to get your tastebuds buzzing.
Grossi Florentino Restaurant, Grill & Cellar Bar, Melbourne, Australia
Considered one of Australia's leading authorities on Italian food, Owner/Chef Guy Grossi puts his heart and soul into everything he does. Thoroughly passionate about the provenance of the ingredients he uses, he takes premium Australian produce and 'Italianifies' it, turning local Wagyu rump cap into a triumph of Italian flavours with rosemary and bone marrow adding umami depth and a house-made hazelnut salsa verde to add freshness. You can feast on handmade pasta like Ravioli All'Uovo served with egg yolk, smoked ricotta, amaretti and aged balsamic or Spaghettini with oven charred vongole (clams). Even the simplest antipasti are loaded with flavour such as the charred peppers with ricotta and pickled tongue with salsa verde and radish.
The beauty of dining at Grossi Florentino is that you know every dish has been crafted to feature prime, locally-sourced ingredients that best show off the authentic Italian flair for layers of flavours and emphasis on freshness.
Mercato, Shanghai, China
Can a French born and raised chef produce some of the best Italian food and serve it in China to great acclaim? According to the outstanding reviews on TripAdvisor for Mercato in Shanghai, three Michelin star Chef Jean Georges Vongerichten certainly can! Adding just that little bit extra to the experience is the fact that the views of this world-class city from the dining table are spectacular. Guests can do a little landmark spotting as they settle in with a serving of burrata cheese with fresh lemon jam, sea salt and basil or some lightly fried calamari with spicy tomato sauce, black olives and capers. The wood oven pizzas are hugely popular, in particular the Black Truffle, Three Cheeses and Farm Egg offering which induces salivation just on reading. The menu continues over house made pastas including Squid Ink Fusilli with clams, squid, shrimp, sea urchin and white wine sauce and glorious mains such as their traditional Veal Milanese with parmesan, sautéed romaine lettuce and lemon.
Mercato's menu is seafood-rich to delight the primarily Chinese patronage however there are abundant options for those who prefer chicken, beef, pork or light and luscious vegetable dishes.
Franco's Pizzeria & Trattoria, Johannesburg, South Africa
Pizza flipper extraordinaire, Franco Forleo serves up arguably Joburg's favourite Italian casual meals to long-time customers at his 1987-established eatery. This old-school, award-winning pizzeria and trattoria offers simple homey fare such as Risotto ai Runghi and Ravioli di Nonna but it's the pizzas that most drop by for. The sublime simplicity of a basic Margherita with fresh tomato sauce and creamy mozzarella can never be underestimated. Italian food doesn't have to be high end, fancy and expensive. Even high flyers enjoy the chance now and then to sit and eat, family-style, in a cosy, welcoming restaurant where the locals would rather it be kept a secret.
As reviewers tell it, Franco's cannot be beaten for Italian food in Johannesburg because it's honest, good food and when you walk in, the comforting aromas greet you like a warm hug.
chi SPACCA, Los Angeles, California
If the names Bastianich and Batali get you excited about eating Italian food, then you will want to check in to chi SPACCA and prepare yourself for a food coma of the best kind. Headed by Mario Batali of Iron Chef fame, Joe Bastianich (son of the esteemed Lidia Bastianich and a restaurant personality in his own right), chi SPACCA's specialty is charcuterie. A meat lover's paradise, the restaurant is an ode to salumi artistry and all the cured meats are made in-house. The goat salami is a must-try and if you like to go rustic when the opportunity arises, then consider the Trotter Fritti (fried pig's trotters), served with house-made butcher's pate, or go all-out and order the Half Roasted Pig's Head.
Los Angeles' most expensive steak – the US $220 Bistecca Fiorentina – is a magnificent dry-aged black angus porterhouse that defies description and should only be experienced in person. The rest of the menu is fairly highly priced too but for a special occasion, and to try some of the best Italian food outside of Italy (with a distinct American accent), it has to be chi SPACCA.
Ristorante Don Camillo, Berlin, Germany
When you're in Berlin and a gigantic, baseball bat-sized pepper grinder hovers over your plate to deliver the perfect amount of seasoning, you know you're in Ristorante Don Camillo. The special little moments keep coming when the waiter comes by with a cart laden with fresh, enticing ingredients so you can create your very own appetisers and main dishes. The skilled waiter will prepare it before your very eyes, at tableside. Even your dessert can be flambéed a la 1970s crepes suzette, but with a modern elegance. TripAdvisor is awash with enthusiastic reviews about the exceptional service which is better termed showmanship. There is no menu so you literally order your dishes based on the ingredients that are shown to you.
Aside from the novelty factor, Ristorante Don Camillo is known for offering the best Italian food in Berlin, prepared and presented with aplomb by the knowledgeable staff.
Jamie's Italian, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
If you had to use one word to describe Jamie Oliver, it would be 'earnest'. He is completely, unashamedly passionate about using food and cooking to unite the world and helping people to enjoy real food. When it comes to Italian food, he has enjoyed the mentorship and father/son-like relationship with Gennaro Contaldo. His respect for his former boss causes him to focus earnestly on presenting dishes that would not be out of place on a family dinner table in Capri or Naples. And so, his contribution to Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas is Jamie's Italian, where the antipasti planks and daily fresh handmade pastas bring a rustic vibe to the seas. His Arancini Margherita (risotto rice balls filled with ragu and mozzarella then crumbed and deep fried) are enormously popular, while his Baked Lasagne and Eggplant Parmigiana would make a homesick Italian cry into his plate with joy.
The next time you feel like a brilliant Italian meal while looking out at the passing ocean, book yourself a berth on Anthem of the Seas and make a reservation at Jamie's Italian.
Italian cuisine is a rich and wonderful thing. It is of course open to interpretation which can sometimes be a hit and sometimes a miss. Whatever your sentiment, we wish you a buon appetite!