LONDON’S Princi opened four years-ago as a hefty investment in reasonably priced fast food. However, much of the space remains unseen to civilians, including a substantial basement for food preparation - unusual given the prime Soho location. The minds behind are: Alan Yau OBE, and Milanese ‘Armani of bread’, Rocco Princi. Although later selling his interests in them, Yau established accessible Asian-inspired canteens, ‘Wagamama’, ‘Busaba Eathai’ and ‘Cha Cha Moon’, as well as upmarket ‘Hakkasan’, ‘Yauatcha’ and ‘Sake No Hana’.
Princi proper occupies a travertine cube where an illuminated trough of filtered water represents the water used in the pizza making process. Opposite, glass counters on rock brim with lustrous sweet and savoury pastries. Architect, Claudio Silvestrin, worked with Princi in Milan where the first designer bakery was established, and created the pristine vision of Francesco Mazzei’s ‘L’Anima’ in the city.
Yau introduced bench dining at Wagamama. Although seating at Princi is predominantly communal, the 48 cover Princi Pizzeria, now neighbouring it, has tables for two as well as window benches. The latter provides a good vantage to observe the fashions sported by Soho’s crowds.
Princi Pizzeria orbits a wood-fired oven and chefs’ counter propped by logs to stoke it. Eleven variations are arranged on bases of fine Caputo flour, ranging from the ubiquitous Margherita (£6.50) to ruddy coppa, rocket and cherry tomatoes (£11.50).
After crunchy antipasti of pane Princi (£3), garnished, bravely, only with olive oil and served, as pizzas, on plates printed with Princi’s slightly Alan Partridge-like signature, the moist Diavola pizza proved devilishly hot in name alone. However, the salami was rich, and the Mozzarella fresh and molten. My guest’s Neapoletana (£9.50), with renegade ‘Italian’ anchovies and capers, didn’t feature the white of the officially protected pizza of Naples (like Italy’s flag, this should be red: tomato, white: Mozzarella, and green: basil) so she added it (£8.50). For the original, order the D.O.C. (also £8.50). Overall, both pizzas felt a tad ‘Holkham Beach’, in that it took time to actually reach anything of substance, the toppings starting far from the crust.
Recommended by an enthusiastic Greek waiter who explained that it was not Italians, but his countrymen who invented the pizza, Meroni ‘Il Velluto’ Valpolicella 2009 (£7.80/175ml) brought a draft of cassis and welcome acidity to pizzas. Despite the designer shop-like decor (the extension is Yau’s work) the wine list, largely defined by Caves Des Pyrene, can appear costly in parts given this is still a pizzeria. There are 20 selections by the glass, from £5/175ml of white/red Abruzzo (versus £3.95 for Pizza Express’s house offering), with five year-old Lombardy sparkler, Franciacorta (Saten) at £9.80/125ml - 30 pence more than my pizza.
Finally, for £5, shared crostata del giornio (sweet tart of the day) proved a fine morsel, its pastry impeccable and filling generous, resulting in a long caramel aftertaste. Although early days for this upmarket pizzeria, its attractive design (despite hard acoustics), well-meaning staff, and long opening hours already see it buzzing.
First published in Harper's (p. 18)