Alvaro Maccioni: Chef and owner of La Famiglia restaurant who helped transform eating out in postwar Britain

 

Alvaro Maccioni's Italian restaurant, just off King's Road in the World's End district of London, was aptly named La Famiglia. Maccioni treated everyone who walked through its doors as family, whether their name was Sinatra, Princess Grace, Princess Margaret, Bardot, Liz Taylor, Michael Caine, Peter Sellers, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Jagger, Clegg, Clapton or Kylie. Or whether they were the local taxi driver, a working class family with children splurging on a birthday (children were always welcome) or a peckish Chelsea football manager after a hard day at nearby Stamford Bridge.

La Famiglia is Jose Mourinho's favourite London haunt, but when he walked through that blue door into the blue-and-white-tiled dining room, or on to its heated and canopied terrace, he was no longer The Special One. To Alvaro Maccioni, everyone was special. The fact that the photographs on the walls were all of his own family, rather than his "other family" – the famous customers – said it all.

Maccioni became an historic figure in Italian cuisine, or cucina, in the UK. Having arrived as a waiter in 1957 aged 20 he was one of a handful of Italian immigrant waiters who changed the face of eating out in London and the UK. Working with former fellow waiters Mario Cassandro and Franco Lagattolla, Maccioni saw their La Terrazza trattoria on Romilly Street, Soho – "The Tratt" – become a magnet for the movers and shakers of the Swinging Sixties, from the Beatles to vibrant London advertising creatives and photographers such as David Bailey. Whereas the Beatles and Stones and Mary Quant's mini-skirts made the headlines, the Italian food revolution was an integral part of the decade.

Postwar Londoners became used to whispering while eating out – at the time still a guilty treat for most after rationing. Then young Italian waiters and chefs like Maccioni opened their own trattorie – where, because the waiters shouted, customers felt they could raise their voices too, even talk to the folks at the next table. It was nothing less than a revolution in British social culture. Brits had been used to spaghetti in a tin but Maccioni and his peers made their own fresh pasta and became known as the UK's pasta pioneers. Maccioni recalled getting a call from the Oxford English Dictionary, saying they were including the word "pasta" and could he help them define it.

In 1957, two years before La Terrazza opened, Panorama broadcast a piece about "the annual Italian spaghetti harvest", with images of workers plucking strands of spaghetti from trees. It was an April Fool's joke but a huge number of viewers called in to ask where they could get this "fresh" product. It is hard to believe now but, shortly before La Terrazza opened, many Brits considered Italian, Indian or Chinese food "foreign muck."

Once he had broken away to launch La Famiglia in 1975, Maccioni brought the first authentic Tuscan cuisine to London. He set up at 7 Langton Street, just off the King's Road, a site now unmistakable for its blue and white facade. Even into his seventies, Maccioni's 500cc Piaggio scooter could be seen parked on the pavement alongside his daughter's Vespa. He rode it until shortly before he died. Earlier this year, Mick Jagger and deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg were photographed leaving the restaurant. Mick went on to play the live Hyde Park Concert two nights later. Whether Mick was pushing for a political candidacy, or Nick was putting himself up for Charlie Watts' drumming job if he ever retires, we may never know. Alvaro Maccioni never told the media about anything that went on inside his walls, though he could probably have made a fortune from the tabloids.

Instead, he stuck with his original intention in coming to the UK, to give his family enough to survive, or hopefully more. "In a sense, he came from nothing and did not want his children to have nothing," his daughter Marietta, who will now run La Famiglia, told The Independent. She said that when her father first came to London he needed olive oil but could only find it in a chemist's shop in Chelsea, where it was billed as good for digestion or "blocked bowels". He began importing it from Pietro in the Tuscan hills, close to where he was born, and later other ingredients he couldn't find in the UK, to recreate the food he had been fed by his mother and grandmother.

By the time La Famiglia was up and running every ingredient not available in England was imported from family in Tuscany. His mantra was "fresh seasonal produce – 'fresco, fresco, fresco'" – and to this day other prominent Italian chefs in the UK rely on his imported fresh produce. "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," he once said.

Alvaro Maccioni was born in Porciano, near Vinci in Tuscany in 1937, the son of a smallholding farmer, Alessandro Maccioni, who fought in the resistance against Mussolini and became a fresh food wholesaler. Alvaro, whose mother was Marietta Nardini, went to school in nearby Lamporecchio before deciding he could be a hotelier. After training in Viareggio and Lausanne he worked as head waiter at hotels including the Excelsior in Florence and the Grande Hotel & La Pace in Montecatini, where he first waited on Princess Grace of Monaco.

In 1958, having emigrated to England, "he spent half of his last 10 bob note to get a taxi to the Mirabelle hotel and apply for a job as a waiter," according to his daughter. There he met compatriots Cassandro and Lagattolla and they later combined at La Terrazza. "Mario, Franco and Alvaro were to food what Gianni Agnelli was to cars and Sophia Loren was to glamour," one food critic wrote.

Maccioni left to open his own restaurant, Alvaro, on the King's Road, of which London Life wrote: "The name Alvaro is whispered from the studios of showbiz to the courts of royalty." He then opened a nightclub, Dell' Aretusa, in the 1960s and had a restaurant chain, Alvaro Pizza e Pasta, possibly the first to use wood-burning ovens. In 1975 he downsized to open La Famiglia, where he spent the rest of his life. He is survived by his wife Letizia, sons Alfonso and Alessandro, daughter Marietta and seven grandchildren.

PHIL DAVISON

Alvaro Maccioni, chef and restaurateur; born Porciano, Italy 3 June 1937; married Letizia Scaglia (two sons, one daughter): died London 22 November 2013.

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker