Croydon’s Italian eateries make up almost a quarter of the borough’s foreign restaurants – more than any other ELL borough. But just 0.11 per cent of the population are Italian-born.
This figure is only trumped by Indian cuisine, which dominates the food scene in each of the areas, and makes up more than a quarter of the foreign restaurants in Croydon. Croydon’s Italian population, lags behind Lewisham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney.
In contrast, Tower Hamlets has around half the Italian restaurants that Croydon has at 11.54 per cent of its foreign restaurants. Hackney and Lewisham have even fewer at 10.34 and 7.24 respectively.
Which begs the question: why are there so many Italian restaurants in Croydon, and who is running these eateries?
It could be the rise of Italian chains such as Zizzi, Prezzo and Bella Italia which is responsible for Croydon’s Italian food boom. This sort of venue makes up more than 20 per cent of Croydon’s Italian restaurant scene.
Croydon has four Pizza Express branches alone, as well as a smattering of other Italian chain venues such as Zizzi and Bella Italia.
Local restaurateurs lament the anglicised offering of the Italian chain businesses in Croydon. Italian-born Croydon resident Antonio Pipicella, founder and manager of independent Italian deli I Calabresi in Coulsdon, said he can tell immediately if an Italian restaurant is not run by natives.
He said: “Over this side it’s just me who is serving authentic Italian food. For the area this is something new – something that was missing. In the main centre [of London?] there are more restaurants.”
He added: “Lots of Italian restaurants nowadays are not run by Italians and you can see the difference. First of all the spelling on the board and on the menu is something that annoys me. And then the food is not authentic. It’s impossible to recreate the flavours because you don’t have the same ingredients we have in Italy.”
According to food writer, Tony Naylor: “The modern UK Italian restaurant embodies the success of “brand Italia”: the repackaging of a nation as a chic, monochrome still from La Dolce Vita. The food – to varying degrees, inauthentic, Anglicised, pan-Italian.”
Having said this, “authentic” Italian restaurants are doing their best to compete. The year 2012 saw the opening of Ponte Nuova by Italian couple Alex and Tina Chiofalo, who also have restaurants in Epsom and Surrey. Meanwhile Tre Fratelli, another Italian family-run business, opened just last year.
But Pipicella still misses the true taste of home. He said: “No one can make pasta like my mum does. I know it’s a cliché but it’s true.”