Rocco and Theo Randall

Local hero Rocco and his foodie friendship with Theo Randall

We meet the Wimbledon baker much revered by London’s top restaurants including Theo Randall’s Intercontinental

Rocco Tanzarella’s deli, La Bottega del Pane, has stood on Kingston Road in Wimbledon for 19 years and for those in the know, from celebrity chefs to local gourmands, it is the place to go for fantastic breads and chocolate.

It is the talented owner’s passion for food, flavours and authentic recipes that has won him praise from top kitchens in London, and, today, La Bottega del Pane supplies the River Cafe, Enoteca Turi, Pellicano, Novikov, Manicomio, Milos, Colicci (with cafe concessions in the Royal Parks), and Theo Randall at the Intercontinental among many others.

Indeed, it was his relationship with the River Cafe that propelled the business into the limelight. “We supplied wine initially but I then supplied a few loaves of my bread. Rose [Gray] loved it, wrote about it in a newspaper article, and that was it!” says Rocco, who originally hails from Puglia.

And it was at the River Cafe where Rocco formed his lasting friendship with Theo Randall. The pair have just collaborated on a new panettone, a Ginettone, which will be sold exclusively in Harvey Nichols. It contains gin (from Gin Mare, a famous Spanish producer), olives and rosemary. While it sounds like it should be savoury, it is not. Explains Rocco: “The olives are soaked in gin for four weeks and become raisin-like. The hint of rosemary is subtle. And it has flavours of orange.”

Theo Randall

The duo clearly love working together and have the deepest respect for one another. Chatting at La Bottega del Pane, Theo tells us: “Rocco is an old friend, probably the best baker in London and makes the best panettone. So when I was approached by Gin Mare he was the first person I thought of.

“I’m a great admirer. He makes the best pagnotta bread in London – perhaps the only pagnotta. It is so important that we continue to support skilled artisans such as Rocco.”

Not done with mastering the fine art of baking, Rocco decided to become a master chocolatier six years ago. He started with chocolate sculpting, a new avenue for his artistic talents, and was soon being commissioned by private clients and companies for incredible masterpieces made from chocolate.

“He makes the best pagnotta bread in London – perhaps the only pagnotta. It is so important that we continue to support skilled artisans such as Rocco.”

“We sell 22 different kinds of truffles, from mango, rum, pistachio, strawberry, orange and vodka, salted caramel, and they’re all made on site.” It is a true south west London gem, and the cafe is a popular breakfast and lunch spot filled with loyal clientele.

With Christmas on the horizon, we asked the friends what they will be up to. Laughs Theo, who actually grew up locally in Kingston: “It means working even harder than usual! We’re very seasonal at my restaurant so there will be all the wonderful things for the time of year and great flavours like chestnuts, game, chocolate and cavolo nero. Christmas is about sharing and enjoying yourself so we have large tables and two private rooms to recreate a family-style atmosphere.”

Rocco fondly remembers Christmases back in Italy with an extended family of 40 around the table. “I try to recreate it as closely as possible with lots of friends. We have fish on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day, we have capon stock with tortellini, which we make here in the shop, and roasted capon.” With a host as convivial as Rocco, and with his great cooking, they are lucky friends indeed!

La Bottega Del Pane, 171 Kingston Rd, Wimbledon, SW19 1LH 020 8542 7626