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Food and Drink

The story of Aberdeen’s La Lombarda in photos, as iconic Italian restaurant celebrates 102 years in business

Thousands of Aberdeen locals and tourists have made memories at the celebrated restaurant through the decades.
Karla Sinclair
Fabrizio Necchi (centre) in 2004. Fabrizio ran La Lombarda with his wife Monica from 1964 to 1999.
Fabrizio Necchi (centre) in 2004. Fabrizio ran La Lombarda with his wife Monica from 1964 to 1999.

“So, you want to know the story of La Lombarda?” Fabrizio Necchi asks me. The faint sound of Italian music playing in the background of the iconic King Street restaurant suddenly disappears.

I’m all ears, and nod eagerly.

“After a three-year engagement, he agreed to [the] marriage,” Fabrizio, who is originally from Borgo Val di Taro near Parma, went on to say.

He was referring to his wife Monica and her father Giuseppe (Joe) Berni, who opened La Lombarda in 1922.

Fabrizio talks me through the story of La Lombarda. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

It sold hot drinks, sweets, cigarettes and ice cream which was handmade by Joe himself.

Monica was Joe and his wife Wilhelmina (Ina) Copland’s only daughter.

“Before, no. Because until she was 25, I wasn’t [permitted] to marry her.

“My father-in-law was a typical Italian. Very old fashioned in his ways, but extremely generous towards his daughter.”

Fabrizio lived in London for two years in the early 1950s, and from 1955 to 1961.

Celebrating 10 years of Aberdeen’s Italian Circle in 1988 at La Lombarda. Pictured is guest of honour, Dr Rudolfo Buonavita (centre), with (from left) his mother Giulia, Circle president Archie Baird, La Lombarda owner Fabrizio Necchi, Mrs Nancy Baird and Bishop Mario Conti.

He married Monica in 1964.

“Eventually, we got married. He [Joe] said to us ‘what are you going to do?’,” said Fabrizio.

“I said, well, I might go back to London. He said ‘you’re not taking my daughter to London, that’s for sure’. If you want to, you can run La Lombarda.”

The newlyweds did just that.

Fabrizio and Monica brought back La Lombarda name after its change during World War Two

La Lombarda was known as The Corner Café at this point, after being renamed in 1939 when World War Two broke out. At the time, it was common for Italian-owned businesses to anglicise their name.

When Monica and Fabrizio took over, its former name returned – and has remained to this day. They also introduced ‘real Italian food’ to the menu.

Misto salumi e prosciutto di parma (mixed cured meats and parma ham) at La Lombarda. Pictured in 2018. Image: Heather Fowlie/DC Thomson

Fabrizio said with a smile: “We were happy and ran a very successful business. The first thing we did was take back the name La Lombarda.

“He [Joe] was very happy.

“We started making some Italian dishes, like lasagne, too.”

When Joe stepped away from the business in 1964, he went on to buy the property next door on the Castlegate, and opened Birnie’s Confectioner where he continued to sell his sweets and ice cream.

Over the years, Fabrizio and Monica expanded the Castlegate corner and the business to include a takeaway, a wine bar (Villa Romana), a function room (Valentinos) and an outside catering business.

La Lombarda taking pride of its place on the corner of King Street in 1990.

“It was always a very, very popular place. We had 34 full-time and part-time staff.”

A bustling La Lombarda in 1989. Pictured is the Italian-Scottish Society enjoying their 100th anniversary.

Sir Alex Ferguson regularly frequented the restaurant

Fabrizio is an avid football fan and a long time supporter of Aberdeen FC.

“I used to be friends with Alex. He was a generous man.

Former Aberdeen FC captain Willie Miller looks at a framed collection of pictures taken in the La Lombarda restaurant after the Dons won the 1983 European Super Cup with George Wyatt (left) and Ian Taggart (right). The picture was captured in 1999.

“When Aberdeen won the European Cup [in 1983], all the players came up.”

Ian Taggart (right) and Aberdeen FC Ladies manager John Napier treat players Niki Bain (left) and Susan Murray to a soft drink before tomorrow’s Scottish Women’s Cup Final in 2000.

Aberdeen’s La Lombarda continued to thrive after reins were handed over

The couple – who have two daughters, Chantal and Claudia – ran La Lombarda until they both retired in 1999.

Fabrizio’s daughter Chantal. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Claudia and her husband Harry opened two successful restaurants in Aberdeen and Ballater before retiring from the catering industry.

Fabrizio said: “I started not feeling great. We were open seven days a week. So, we decided it was time to lease the place.”

La Lombarda was run by George and Theresa Wyatt – for whom Fabrizio was full of praise – for a number of years.

A picture of George and Theresa Wyatt from 2007. Image: Gordon Lennox
Customers enjoying an evening of authentic Italian food at La Lombarda in April 2009. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Reminiscing on fond memories with the staff, who were ‘like a family’

Now in 2024, the third and fourth generation of the family have breathed new life into the iconic 102-year-old business.

Outside Gio’s and La Lombarda today. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Chantal and her three children, Owen, Anya and Esme – who recently returned from living in America – and Tom Simmonds are re-establishing La Lombarda as one of the top restaurants in the Granite City.

The Italian restaurant’s interior. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson
The Crostini trio, a must-try menu item. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

They started on a small scale with the Trattoria called Gio’s, which was soon followed by the opening of the original La Lombarda restaurant.

Fabrizio now lives with Claudia and Harry in Aboyne.

He continues to try the La Lombarda dishes at any given opportunity.

Chantal said: “In March, we had all the old staff who used to work here – when dad had it – visit.

Former staff pictured at the restaurant in 2009. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

“Between them they’d done about 180 years of service.

“Head chef Gordon was here for 37 years. Our other chef Brian started in 1973 – the year I was born – and worked here for 30 years, while another was here for 22 years.

Gordon Mackintosh at La Lombarda in 2005.
Ian Taggart, left, George Wyatt and La Lombarda chef Brian Strachan in 1999.

“Even all the waiting staff were in and a lot of them had more than 20 years [of service]. They had a really good day.”

Fabrizio added: “It was like a family. As Chantal says, they were there for a lifetime.”

When I caught up with Fabrizio, he was expecting not one but two great-grandchildren. He was already a great grandfather to six.

Fabrizio inside the new-look La Lombarda restaurant. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

“I’m so happy that a member of my family has come and taken over La Lombarda,” he went on to say, gazing over at Chantal.

Chantal, Fabrizio and Tom Simmonds. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

“You maybe turn around and say I’m too nosey. It’s not a question of being nosey, it’s me being proud of you for doing so well.”

Chantal has relished meeting old and new customers alike

Chantal has had a number of chats with regular La Lombarda customers since taking over.

“There’s an older couple that’s been in twice now. When I was clearing their plates the last time, she said ‘uh, I’ve done it again, I didn’t save space for a knickerbocker glory’,” she explains.

A 2005 interior image of the space where memories have been made over the years. Image: Nick Anderson

A knickerbocker glory is a menu staple at the restaurant.

Chantal adds: “She’d actually been born above Blackfriars and her dad worked away. When he came back that was their treat. They’d come here and have a knickerbocker glory.

“She told me when she comes back next time, I have to remind her to not eat too much, to save space for one.

“A couple came in that had their first date here 45 years ago. His wife turned around and said ‘that’s the last time you took me out’.

A recommended dish is the spaghetti carbonara, but be sure to leave room for a knickerbocker glory. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

“And we had a woman visit that had her hen party here 20 plus years ago.”

The list goes on.

Looking ahead, Chantal and the team look forward to more people making memories at La Lombarda.

Chantal and Tom look forward to the business’ future. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

There are also further expansion plans to reopen the takeaway, function rooms and bar.