In order to escape military service, Bernardo Stella left Italy during the heatwave in the summer of 1957. He travelled to England and found the cooler, green fields of Kent re-energising. He had found his Eden.
In 1958, during a military raid in her Cypriot village, where freedom fighters had sought refuge in the local church, a very young Androulla Stella fought back and disarmed a soldier. To escape retribution, she came to London.
In 1959, Bernardo moved to London and began working in a French restaurant. This is where he would meet his future wife, Androulla.
Their love began when a mischievous chef placed a live lobster on Androulla’s back, causing her to faint. Whilst the staff were laughing, Bernardo rushed to her aid with a glass of water and a gentle pat on the cheek, followed by a furious telling off to the culprit. They have been together ever since.
The following year, they decided to launch their own French restaurant, and after a great deal of searching, they found the perfect spot in Hampstead. On March 5th 1962, they opened La Gaffe in a building that was once the site of a shepherd’s cottage (dating back to 1734). From modest beginnings of only a few tables constructed from barrels, drinks bought from the pub next door, Bernardo taking orders and with Androulla doing all the cooking, La Gaffe was born.
As for the question of the restaurant's name? Well, that's a story in itself! 'La Gaffe' came about after a friend jokingly commented that for a Greek Cypriot woman and an Italian man to open a French restaurant together in North-West London could well be a great “gaffe!"
How wrong she was! Androulla's continental cuisine was soon attracting many plaudits and La Gaffe soon became a popular restaurant, attracting some of the world's most iconic celebrities in the 1960s and 70s, including Clint Eastwood, Cliff Richard, Brian Esptein, the Shadows, Peter O’Toole, Oliver Reed and Peter Sellers. Princess Margaret used to visit in disguise, and the Queen Mother loved Androulla's paté so much she'd send a driver to pick it up!
Today, La Gaffe continues to be run by one of the family - Bernardo's and Androulla's son, Lorenzo. The two founders pop in occasionally, before a stroll on the nearby Heath (where, in the Autumn, they forage for mushrooms). In the meantime, Bernardo has gone from strength to strength as a theatre aficionado - in the last 50 years, he has written several plays, many of which have been performed in local theatres around Hampstead and other parts of north London. In 1998, he was honoured to be knighted in Italy as a Cavalliere d’Italia for his services to Anglo-Italian relations.
Over the decades we have grown and incorporated rooms and a bar to our original restaurant, and we are proud of our long - and unusual - history! We have been very happy to receive many awards for both our restaurant and our rooms. In 2015, we were inducted into Tripadvisor's "Hall of Fame" thanks to five consecutive years of top-rated reviews. We are so pleased to still be winning this accolade today.
In 2022, we will celebrate our sixtieth anniversary! We are so grateful to our loyal customers, and hope to welcome many new guests to the La Gaffe family over the coming decades! If you'd like to see more of La Gaffe's history, view a selection of our press cuttings.