It's so windy I've eaten a substantial chunk of my newly dip-dyed hair and my faux-fur coat is soaked through so I sort of resemble a badger that's had a quick dip in a river. It's definitely winter and so the promise of being transported, if just for the evening, to the warm, atmospheric cafes of Milan is one too good to turn down. That and I need a glass of red wine to warm me up.
Princi started out as an Italian bakery with a salad bar but has grown into one of the most popular cafe/bakeries in this area, where the large lunch crowd means almost every other shop front is a deli or an artisan baker.
However, this little Italian jewel shouldn't just be saved for a hasty lunchtime, especially since they've recently added a pizzeria restaurant into the space.
Princi now compromises the formal restaurant area where you can order simple starters like and an extensive list of freshly baked pizzas, and the original informal bakery area complete with salad and hot food buffet.
When you enter the restaurant the waiter does that thing of insisting on speaking to you in Italian which is quite sweet but ultimately just results in my friend and I blankly staring back at him and nodding, followed by a pause and "Can we order some wine then please?".
There's an extensive wine list which although slightly pricey considering the surroundings (we paid £32ish for ours) does offer some surprises, our wine was recommended by our waiter and we just agreed because he was so beautiful we couldn't speak. Luckily, it was delicious.
Starters are simple Italian classics, Antipasti, octopus salad and mozerella with tomato. But the main courses are unashamedly, pizza, pizza and more pizza and why not? They have a huge stone pizza oven which is the focus of the restaurant, an open kitchen where you can see your dinner being prepared and boxes of fresh ingredients. If you know what you do well why overcomplicate things?
It's that premise, the hustle and bustle of the diners and the informal set up of the restaurant that is reminiscent of pizzerias in Rome. Families, students, teens, first daters and groups of cackling women, all coming together to eat pizza before heading off into the night to carry on their evening. Premium quality, cooked traditionally without too much pomp or fuss, there is something very Italian about that.
I went for the Capricciosa, ham, artichoke, black olives, tomato and mozzarella although everything on the menu made my stomach rumble.
The dough was perfect, crispy enough to provide that crunch but fluffy enough that it could mop up the juicy, flavoursome fresh tomato sauce on the base, which, itself, almost distracts you from the fresh toppings.
Service was extremely fast, there were a lot of staff on hand to help us and they were all extremely helpful and friendly. The atmosphere and staff were really reminiscent of being on holiday somewhere as the layout of the restaurant almost creates a covered outside eatery feel. That little ambience is obviously deflated when you leave the restaurant, step into a puddle and have to weave your way through Soho back to the tube.
London has a lot of gourmet pizza places now and having eaten at Princi I would add it to the top of my list. Mainly because:
1) I didn't have to wait forever in a line that weaves through a butchers and fish market (Franco Manca Brixton I'm looking at you).
2) They gave me loads of topping on my pizza.
3) Extremely beautiful waiters
This is the way to my heart. It's that simple.