This article first appeared in the Croydon Citizen https://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/vinoteca-italiana/
Imagine the perfect trattoria. It would be fairly run and owned, with friendly Italian staff who care about your experience. You’d start with a selection of Italian breads and a grassy olive oil with a sweet and sour vinegar to have with a first drink. The place would have great al dente pasta with rich and punchy sauces that are lick the plate tasty, if not Michelin refined. There’s a wood-fire baked pizza you can eat in or out. Also ‘British-Italian’ classics such as saltimboca, stuffed courgette flowers, and outstanding produce led dishes with an emphasis on fresh veg and seafood.
There might be an outside area and children are there to be indulged and developed as mini food lovers, a valuable and essential member of each party. All the adults in the restaurant are entirely relaxed about the kids.
The wine list would be strictly Italian. Why range internationally when you can drink a bottle of Gavi and some Barolo to add some oomph. Maybe even an earthy montepulciano to go with the best pizza you’ve ever eaten. The desserts would be great ice cream, tiramisu, cantuccini and vin santo. Great coffee would be complemented by a limoncello or, if you want hairs on your chest, a grappa that is far more refined than many you might find.
Finally there’s a lovey hum to the place. Big and small groups are equally happy. They all combine to create quite a noisy restaurant that is a very happy place to be and is busy pretty much every evening. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not describing an imaginary restaurant. I’m reviewing a place that has enriched my family’s life in the twenty odd months that we’ve lived about a ten minutes walk away.
We get takeaway pizza 45-50 weeks of the year. My wife and I go there on date nights, and we’ve been there with a group of eight. The food really is exceptional and delivers a big punch of flavour. It starts with the rustic power of a punchy, spicy, vaguely Sardinian tomato and prawn pasta dish into perfectly cooked simple fish dishes. Pearly white sea bass is simply roasted with olive oil, garlic, herbs and lemon. Then onto classic meat dishes like the yummy saltimbocca.
The specials are genuinely special and change fairly regularly. The key to this place is the combination of the quality of the food and the genuinely welcoming and unobtrusive service. The husband and wife team that runs the place is complemented by genuine Italians who are happy to chat if you would like, but will leave you space if that’s what you would like.
I think Vinoteca is better than its equivalents in Croydon’s food quarter. You can spend only £20 per person and be happy, or you can eat and drink a lot and do some damage to your bank balance if it’s a special occasion and you want to play with the wine list. I know that it’s not technically in Croydon, but it is less than ten minutes away from West Croydon station, which is about twenty metres from the Carshalton Beeches station. The 154 from West Croydon or Waddon is about twenty minutes and it stops right outside.
I can’t recommend this restaurant enough to anyone that is within thirty minutes. If there’s a hefty bearded guy sitting on his own at the bar with a glass of red, wearing a rugby shirt, reading the sports pages and waiting for a takeaway pizza, it’s probably me. Say hello! I’m friendlier than I look.