The Lowdown: the rise of the Italian-American restaurant

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

The rise of the Italian-American restaurant in the UK

Related tags Italian cuisine Casual dining London Pasta Pizza Restaurant

Fans of vodka pasta and gabagool have plenty to salivate about with Italian-American restaurants popping up across the capital and beyond.

Sounds like we’re heading for peak parmigiana?
Maybe so. Italian-American restaurants are very much alla moda​ right now. This week plans were revealed for a huge new restaurant in Manchester called Louis​. Set to open in the autumn, it is the latest concept from Permanently Unique Group and is described as ‘a love letter to the Italian-American restaurants of New York’. That’s not all; Marco Pierre White’s New York Italian restaurant brand, appropriately named Marco’s New York Italian, is getting back on the expansion trail this week with a new opening in Blackpool. The concept is described as being inspired by Pierre White’s Italian heritage and his love for New York and will serve a menu of Italian-inspired dishes and American classics including fresh pasta, handmade pizza and steaks and some classic Italian and New York-inspired desserts.

Interesting, presumably this is a London trend too?
London has witnessed a glut of new Italian-American restaurant launches in recent months. They include high-end places like The Dover in Mayfair​, which serves the kind of food you’d find in a mom and pop Brooklyn Italian restaurant, albeit through a more refined lens. The menu is described as featuring ‘Italian dishes with a New York attitude’ and includes a hearty serving of spaghetti meatballs; an Italian sausage pie; and chicken cordon bleu with a pizzaiola sauce. On the more casual end of the scale there’s Grasso in Soho, another ode to the family-run, Italian-American restaurants synonymous with the New York dining scene, which features a menu of ‘mom’s spaghetti’; chicken parm; and pizza topped with vodka sauce, burrata, rocket and parmesan. Speaking of pizza, those who have an affection for New York’s many by-the-slice joints will find themselves well catered for by Alley Cats in Marylebone​, which goes above and beyond to prove its Italian-American credentials by literally projecting episodes of The Sopranos ​onto the walls during service.

Bada bing! Is this a trend that looks set to continue?
You’d better believe it, particularly in the capital. It was recently revealed that Carbone, the high-profile New York restaurant that’s famed for its spicy rigatoni vodka pasta dish, has chosen The Chancery Rosewood in London’s Mayfair as the location for its first European site​. Meanwhile, Restaurant ​understands that Alley Cats has lined up a second site in Chelsea. It’s not just New York concepts getting in on the action too. Spitalfields restaurant Detroit Pizza, which is led by chef Ryan O'Flynn, recently opened a new site in Islington. While the group’s original site is positioned as a dedicated pizza joint, the Islington restaurant is an all-out Italian-American affair with dishes including gabagool; Sicilian spiced meatballs; deep fried lasagna; and pesto alfredo pasta.

Italian-American restaurants are hardly new phenomena. Why the sudden burst in popularity?
Italian-American culture in all forms is having a moment and part of it can be attributed to the rising trend of the so-called #mobwife aesthetic on Tik Tok, described by Glamour UK​as being a retro combination of ’90s supermodel glamour mixed with the cheeky, pattern-mixing excess of the early 2010s. When it come to restaurants the familiar dishes, generous portions and family-style service chimes with people looking for better value for money and some comfort in these depressing times of recession.

So, it’s all down to Frankie & Benny's then?
The current wave of popularity in Italian-American food can’t really be laid at the feet of the casual dining brand, but it was a trailblazer when in launched in 1995. The brand’s estate has more than halved in size from its heyday with former owner The Restaurant Group selling sites and converting them into Wagamamas before striking a deal with Big Table, but the surge in popularity of the food could be a boost for the 60-strong restaurant brand. That said, its fictionalised backstory of two Italian friends getting their start by taking over a restaurant in Little Italy, arguably lacks an element of authenticity that pervades this new wave of restaurants.

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