Derelict London: Villa Italian Restaurant

A walk along Chelsea Embankment through Westminster brought me past this little building that was once the Villa Italian Restaurant. Google doesn’t bring up much info about this old place. Anyone been there before it closed?

53 comments on “Derelict London: Villa Italian Restaurant

  1. Further to Graham’s comment…

    I think it used to be called “The Elephant On The River” and was very posh, as he says, the quality of the food was not great, but it was the place to be seen…

    It is also almost opposite Dolphin Square, a 1930’s housing development, that the very fashionable and poshest people used to live in… eschewing “old buildings” like the two-up, two-down properties in Chelsea and Fulham.

    My wife used to provide visiting nursing services to a lot of very wealthy old people that lived there during the early 1980’s… By this time, these wealthy people were living in utter squalour.. Presumably, they just hadn’t noticed as they became more feeble.

  2. Think it used to be called White Elephant on the River restaurant, I have a cook book from it with celebrity recipes in it!

      • Era frequentato da gente facoltosa, mance anche di 500 sterline.
        La domenica c’era il brunch a 25 sterline e si faceva il pieno. Ma si lavorava bene anche gli altri giorni. C’era l’orchestra e si ballava.
        Al tempo ricordo che il personale era tutto italiano tranne i lavapiatti brasiliani.
        I proprietari erano tre ed avevano rilevato l’attività da una signora anziana che talvolta veniva a mangiare li.
        Si chiamava the elephant on the river. Io abitavo in oakley street e ci arrivavo a piedi ogni giorno. Cucina internazionale. Mi sembra assurdo che sia chiuso. Deve essere successo qualcosa di grave oppure una gestione veramente incapace.

        • Ciao , Ci ho lavorato nel 95 o forse 96 non ricordo, lo aveva rilevato un tizio che gestiva il ristorante all’interno dell tate gallery Ambrogio(Ambro per i piu’) , tipo molto bravo a parole ma scarso ad esperienza in locali del genere. In meno di un anno ha bruciato i soldi degli investitori e ha fatto fallire il ristorante . Ho visitato il posto qualche anno fà e da come ho visto come l’ha ridotto mi veniva quasi da piangere.

  3. John Luton Beds

  4. I am Italian and I worked as waiter in the 1977 in this restaurant
    The exact address is: 129 Grosvenor Road London SW1V 3JY.
    I still keep as souvenir my working suit and a brown tie with
    the small fanny white elephant stamped on it.
    Yes the live music was played by Ray Ellington sometime
    with Rosemary Squires.
    Every night in a such fantastic atmosphere many famous people
    came to meet each other and have a dinner in this restaurant with a beautiful window view
    on the Thames river.
    I remember among them: Shirley Bassey, Rod Stewart with Britt Ekland,
    some Arab Princes and many others BBC celebrities
    The staff was mainly Italian and Greek cook

  5. In the later 1980’s my dad was asked to re-upholster the furniture in the White Elephant on the River restaurant to a very high standard because Frank Sinatra was booked to play a private concert there. He worked long hours every day all week in order to get the job done in time for the concert. Although he was proud to be asked to do the work he remarked that he found it a bit queer that he was never once offered a cup of tea or glass of water in the whole time he was working on the site.

    • Can I just say that the restaurant you are referring to is the The White Elephant in Curzon Street, W.1 (owned by the same person). Frank Sinatra only went to that club and the refurbishment was done there. He never went to the The White Elephant on the River.

  6. i went there many times with my then boyfriend it was always an experience and yes there were always interesting people there. the food was absolutely fine but i just remember the music and dancing and enjoying myself.

  7. What wonderful stories! In August 1976 this 23 year old from Westlake Village, California had a bursting piggy-bank that allowed me to take a trip to London. The first day I took the train to Windsor Castle where, unbelievably, I met my best friend’s mother-in-law and her youngest son from my hometown who were in London to visit her brother. He took us to lunch at The White Elephant on the River. I have a photograph of us standing at the front entrance under a canopy of white with the name in green-gray lettering. I recall the River Thames was quite low from an ongoing drought.

  8. My wife and I had our wedding reception there on the 25th November 2001.
    What a magical evening. The Food and Service were superb.

  9. I had a memorable night there. Georgie Fame stood in for Ray Ellington who was unwell and it was a brilliant session. I recall Bernie Winters in there with his dog.

    • I played drums with Ray Ellington and Georgie Fame, such an exclusive eatery with simply the best sophisticated music in London. Ray Ellington and the band eventually moved on to the Rooftop Restaurant at The Park Lane Hilton.

  10. My husband worked at both the White Elephant On the River (129 Grovensor Road) and the Villa Elephant on the River (which used to be the rival Villa Dei Cesare), for 30 years. He met all the famous people mentioned above and many many more.

  11. Enjoyed several memorable nights wining and dining at this fabulous venue. Food great and the service fantastic – so sorry to see it looking so sad and neglected. It would be nice to see it open again with the live music and dancing. I must admit it was also nice just sitting at the bar and having a drink before dinner.

  12. The picture is of the Villa dei Cesari as it used to be. I went there often in the late sixties and early seventies. There was always a great atmosphere, and the Italian cuisine was superb.

  13. People! So interesting your stories, thank you for sharing!Hi! I just rent my apartment at 128 Grosvenor Road -previous White Elephant on the River restaurant, could u please email me a pictures of that place, just so curious to see how that place looked like that time?

  14. well the place has now gone sadly. I worked for a fashion mag in London in the late 70s and mixed with the rich and powerful, It was not uncommon to see Joan Collins in the powder room, Janet Street Porter guffawing at some bores jokes or the waiters accidentally spilling Spaghetti carbonara over legs and co after their hefty dance sessionsns

  15. I too recall those heady days. At the time I was a young socialite, recently left Bedales, and mater and pater despaired of me. I decided to run orf to London and party. I was probably the prototype to all these frightfully gorgeous wildchilds of the day Mandy Smith e.t.c. Anyways dahhlings, I decided to go there one night with Georgie Allen oh lorks what laughs we had. Rod Stewart leered at me, Diahann Carroll glared and Katherine Hepburn farted and followed through, running to the toilet and clutching her knick knacks dahhhhlliiinggsss x

  16. Hey guys, As alot of you have said this is the ‘old’ Villa dei Ceseri. Which was renamed Villa Elephant On The River. But the same owner who owned the original Elephant On The River (129 Grosvendor road) Which was sold for an obscene amount of money in the late 90’s and flats were built. Lesley V – who is your husband? My father was the General Manager for both restaurants.

  17. Was a loyal customer for around 20 years at both The White Elephant Clubs, on Curzon Street in Mayfair and on the River. Both were excellent both in food quality and service. Saw Mohammad Ali, Don King and Tyson at Curzon, many royals at tge River. Wish they would resume business

  18. Yes a lot of confusion between the pictured place (Villa dei Cesare (that’s what it says on the round sign) later called Villa Elephant on the River at 135 Grosvenor Rd) and the White Elephant on the River at 129 Grosvenor Rd. I’ll use the numbers.

    The 129 restaurant shut first, in the early 90s I think and I thought that the 135 restaurant then changed its name to add “elephant on the river” to cash in on the much more famous 129. But someone says they were owned by the same people? If so were they run side by side or was 135 bought just to take over from 129 once it had been sold? I assume the owners by that stage were different to those who owned the Curzon Street club? I think 135 shut in about 2002?

    Also anyone know for sure which was used for interior shots as a casino in the film The Long Good Friday? There is also confusion regarding this. I suspect it’s 129 but a lot of online sources say 135.

  19. Went to the White Elephant after a Fleetwood Mac concert at Earls Court but cannot
    Remember exact. Food not memorable but atmosphere great. Only just learnt of its demise. Very sad!!

  20. In the 1980’s I was working for the government of Nigeria. A few times I was tasked with taking large groups of Africans there, who were all either in insurance, or else were diplomats or politicians from their countries – Nigeria, Kenya, Switzerland (of course, not in Africa – I know – but in insurance.) I always enjoyed the food there, the drink flowed generously, the service was excellent, the view out over the river was enchanting, and my groups of guests – some just not at all used to European ways – were often……entertaining.

  21. I was looking for pictures of this restaurant and was very sad when I found this. Spent many a happy time here, dining and dancing the night away in the mid and late 80s. Yes, Ray Ellington and Rosemary Squires were at the Rooftop Restaurant at the Hilton.

  22. Ho lavorato come commis di sala all’Elephant on the River da Giugno fino a Settembre 1996. La sala aveva 4 maitre, ogni maitre aveva il suo chef di rango ed il suo commis di sala. Le pietanze venivano portate in sala su vassoi e venivano sporzionate in sale di fronte ai clienti. Aperto tutte le sere tranne lunedì, domenica a pranzo buffet. Paga orientativa dell’epoca 140 Sterline settimanali comprensiva di mance. Costo Molto elevato, serate eleganti, orchestra tutte le sere, serate molto raffinate, ottima cantina. All’epoca la gestione era di 3 diversi proprietari, di cui 2 sicuramente di origine italiana. Ricordo anche io i lavapiatti brasiliani. Ricordo i nomi di tutti i maitre che non riporto on questo sede perché non utili . Ciao

  23. So many memories! I remember being in the company of a famous Egyptian film star’s son when I went to this restaurant in 1981 and drinking and dancing the night away….so many laughs and so much fun! those were the days!🙂

  24. So fun Reading all these memories – I have to share With you one of mine. Were invited With some Italian friends together With my Norwegian collegue out for dinner – was a bit surprised when we should enter because there were bodyguards With guns outside the entrance. We went inside and after a while I understood why – The Queen and King og Jordan were sitting at the table besides us. And the most funny – I met the Queen at the ladies room – sitting on her knees looking for an lost earring – I helped her finding it!

  25. I took my girlfriend (wife) there during the late sixties…Villa Dei Cesari, where ‘Angelo and Otello will be pleased to welcome you’. I still have the card in the scrapbook! phone numbers given as: 834-9872 & 828-7453 (the second 8 handwritten over the incorrect printed number!) I remember ordering a side dish of mushrooms… a large dish of button mushrooms came up, food wasn’t marvellous, I just wanted to impress my girlfriend. She hasn’t told me to throw the scrapbook away, so I suppose she enjoyed it?

  26. I visited this restaurant several times in the early 1980s and had spectacular meals. I recall going there for a private wine tasting and buffet in January 1982. There was wall to wall caviar, lobster and strawberries, unbelievable for the time of year, and every strawberry was the same size and shape, without exception, obviously individually selected. I especially recall a dish of cold veal in a rich cream sauce, absolutely superb. I’m amazed that such a fantastic restaurant didn’t survive.

  27. I worked at the villa de Cesari for 18 months with Tony Mani’s band. It was a 7 piece with relief drummer. It was a very slick operation. The music was continuous all night without any breaks in it. The pay was good and we played 6 nights a week. I still have a menu from that time.

  28. Wow, the stories here are amazing and funny. Unfortunately I dont have any to share as I wasnt born but as Otello was my grandad Ive always heard so many stories of here and the restaurant in dean street in soho. Its brought a smile that this place has a lot of people coming here to share memories from such a long time ago! I hope this lives on in memories ! God bless

    X. Scipioni

  29. Ho lavorato all’Elephant On The River dal 1986 al 1988, prima come Commis poi come Chef de Rang – prossimamente se riesco posterò una serie di ricordi.. Indelebili. Era tra i locali più glamour e scintillanti della Londra anni ’80…
    I worked there (named The Elephant on the River at that time) from 1986 till 1988.. will post some memories soon…

  30. I lived in St Georges Square at 123 directly opposite in nurses accommodation (I worked at Great Ormond Street) and they owned 123 St Georges square. As a treat my friend Rosemary (a fellow nurse invited me for a birthday treat) that was the summer of 1981, I donned my best Laura Ashley which was quite sloaney at the time, being gorgeous opened a lot of doors for me, at the time in London. I was a beautiful scouse girl who could put on the talk. Anyway enough about me, we were shocked to see a very young Lady Diana due to be married with her colleagues from the Young England Kintergarten down the road, scruffily dressed in sweater, jeans with such a beautiful face and lovely skin. She was so down to earth laughing with the waiters and giggling feverishly when they gave her a Tiramisu on the house.

  31. My famous tale relates back to 1980, my mummy had a large rambling house in Lupus Street quite nearby. We were wealthy then before Daddy decided to run away with our whore of an au pair. I was great friends with the designer of the moment Crepe Suzette, and she said Tatyana lets go dancing to Villa Cesare. At the time it was full of Royalty and also quite sleazy euro trash playboy types. It was the decade of Tramp decadence and copius wealth and opulence. Well I’m sitting at the bar and Crepes bloody dirty martini misses her mouth and drenches her Zandra Rhodes jumpsuit, shes in shock Oliver Tobias walks in (oh my gosh) handsome as hec, and says good evening girls. I couldn’t sleep for a week he was hot. Then I noticed Pamela Salem and Anita Rodddick gossiping in a booth, Tom Conti, with of all things a briefcase on his table and looking through papers, and a petulant Kim Wilde (very spotty at the time) sulking with her manager and sipping orange juice. Take me back to those days I say

  32. I used to play in a band there 6 nights a week. That was 1972. It was rich sleazy , but kind of fun.

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