In a city like London, with such a variety of communities, cultures and tastes, the term ‘hidden gem’ has become an over-used cliche for the most part when trying to describe a new restaurant or shop you’ve discovered that keeps a low profile, yet trumps all the better known places. I found it genuinely impossible, however, not to refer to one of Lewisham’s best Italian restaurants in such a way when visiting on a quiet Monday Lunchtime. After consulting GPS from my phone for what initially seemed like a blatantly obvious location on Brownhill Road, Catford, I discovered La Pizzeria Italiana through the help of 2 signed chalk boards, each tactfully setup in different locations to try and simply state its existence to passers by.
Hidden, quite literally, underneath a humongous tower block, where the stairs fall immediately before the restaurant, La Pizzeria Italiana is impossible to view from the street, and you have to be within 10 metres of it to know that it’s there. Yet its puzzling location has had no effect on the restaurant’s popularity or custom, as I soon found out when stepping inside and seeing the place buzzing and near packed...
As you step inside, the contrast between outside and in is only too obvious. The tardis effect hits you as the place opens up, with spacious tables and a wide kitchen area hosting a mammoth pizza oven to your left. I was greeted kindly by the staff, who were clearly thrown a bit of disarray from the busyness of the place at this time. It is also clear that this is a family run restaurant; the staff talk freely with each other and to the customers, and the owner, Franco, gives off a confident player-coach demeanour that lets you know he’s passionate about what he does.
After scouring through the menu, I chose a classic Bruschetta to start with, seeking a quick bite before the main, which arrived on my table in a matter of minutes. Packed to the brim with tomato and garlic, and presented beautifully with coriander and olive oil, it was just what I needed to tease my appetite before tackling a pizza.
Left satisfied from the flavoursome Bruschetta, I eagerly anticipated the ‘Rustica’ pizza I ordered - a simple yet flavoursome mix of olives, mushrooms, pepperoni, onions, and tomato. As I waited I noticed the colourful artwork that decorated the walls of this enchanting restaurant: a watercolour painting of a cove by the sea, and a large painting of an Italian town viewed from across a river.
The transparency of the service was clear when I saw Franco removing my pizza from the oven, putting the finishing touches on it, and delivering it to me himself. Already sliced, I had little work to do with this wonderfully presented specimen. I was excited to taste the dough and their traditional sauce, which is made fresh with Italian tomatoes, fresh basil, oregano and Italian extra virgin oil. The taste of the dough was impeccable; as an avid fan of traditional Italian pizza (none of this cheese-stuffed bloated crust that Pizza Hut seem to have hooked so many poor souls on) I was impressed by this particular feat. The toppings were lovely and plentiful, and the overall pizza was immaculate. Alongside their pizzas, they have a large menu of pasta dishes, calzones, and also a bespoke salad menu which was designed solely by Franco and his team, and is unique to the restaurant. I will be trying this out on my returning visit for sure!
Whether you’re a pizza lover or a pasta fanatic, most people will generally agree that Italian food is amazing. La Pizzeria Italiana is one of the rare cases where the authenticity of Italian cooking is transferred unperturbed across the continent and allowed to flourish in a micro-community, just as it might be along the side streets of Florence or Siena. Check out this genuinely hidden gem of a restaurant in Catford and make sure you come on an empty stomach!
Address: 3 Eros House, Brownhill Road, Catford, SE6 2EF
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