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The Spaghetti Tree – Book review

12 June 2009
The Spaghetti Tree – Book review

The Spaghetti Tree Alasdair Scott Sutherland
Primavera Books, £14.99
ISBN 9780955789205

The discovery of sex - dated in Philip Larkin's Annus Mirabilis to be 1963 - was not the only thing that made the 1960s swing. Another was the emergence of the restaurant in a form that might be recognised today.

The general culinary style was essentially (bastardised) French. Wartime rationing, only abolished in the mid-1950s, hardly encouraged experimentation with anything new.

It was into this dull world that it fell to the Italians - who often provided the service in 1950s "French" restaurants - to inject a bit of brio. More specifically, in 1959, two such immigrants launched a restaurant - Mario and Franco's Terrazza, in Romilly Street, Soho - that was to change the London restaurant scene for ever.

Sutherland sketches out the background to the Terrazza revolution, evokes the glamour of the early years, describes the growth of Mario and Franco's empire and the wave of fashionable Italian restaurants that followed.

He even provides a fascinating double-page chart, from where you can trace the descendants of, say, Pontevecchio (1963), San Frediano (1967) and Meridiana (1968) to such contemporary delights as the River Café, Zafferano and Fifteen. He also notes the old soldiers - such as San Lorenzo (1963) and La Famiglia (1975) - that trudge on to this day.

It's a story that needed to be told and Sutherland - whose love affair with Italian restaurants began when he visited Terrazza as an 18-year-old in 1964 - has been there throughout. As an Englishman with a partially Italian upbringing, he was the man for the job. He's good on the business, but understands the social aspects too.

During the 1960s and 1970s - to an extent that any restaurant-goer under 40 today would have difficulty appreciating - the fashionable mid-price restaurants in London were the Italians, and Sutherland covers much of the ground for the more comprehensive restaurant history of the period that has yet to be written. In so ably capturing the period, Sutherland has done us all a service.

Reviewed by Richard Harden, co-founder of Harden's Restaurant Guide. Review first appeared in Harden's newsletter. Visitwww.hardens.comto register.

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