My friend Lucia from the London Italian Language Meetup group wanted to introduce me to Princi, a panetteria – bakery – on Wardour Street in London’s Soho. Princi opened last summer and, Lucia told me, sells pizze al taglio – pizza by the slice – and filled focaccia, cakes and pastries just like in Italy. Well, how could I resist?
We met late yesterday afternoon. In slightly rundown Wardour Street, Princi offers a stylish haven of Italian buzz. The simple exterior gives way to a smart interior that immediately tells you of its Milanese heritage. Artisan baker Rocco Princi’s Milanese bakery has become an institution in a city that is one of the smartest in the world and now you can get the experience in the heart of London. Milan is so chic you feel you have to dress up just to get off the plane at Malpensa airport. Even the security guards look as if they’re dressed in Armani. You walk into Princi London and even though it’s ‘only’ a cafe, you want to dress up a little. Slightly seedy Soho is left behind and suddenly you are transported to Italy. Clean and elegant lines stretch before you: long black granite counters with wonderful displays of food and the large sandstone tiles on the walls that give a soft and welcoming warmth.
To the left as you enter is the pizzeria where you can sit for a more restaurant experience and be served. To the right, a far larger area of the cafe, is the self-service area. Lucia thought I should get the real Italian panetteria experience by ordering slices of pizza so we headed to the right. Even at 5pm it was busy and we had to look around for two free seats. Having found somewhere to sit, we headed to the counter.
Large glass display cases were filled with the best filled focaccia I’ve seen outside Italy and huge slabs of fresh pizza. They serve Napolitana pizza – a thicker base than thin-based Romana pizzas. Further along the counter are wonderful cakes.
You order and pay and then have to take your tray to the bar right at the back to pick up any drink ordered. I only had a soft drink, Lucia coffee, but you can order beers, wine or cocktails too. I had a slice of pizza Margherita and a small bottle of sparkling Ferrarelle water – my favourite in Italy but rarely found in UK – and Lucia chose chocolate and pear cake and a coffee.
The pizza was excellent: a good, flavourful dough and plenty of topping. Lucia’s cake looked amazing – but I’d had my cake rations earlier in the day so was going to give cake a miss. But I’ll definitely go back to Princi to try more of their wonderful food and for the atmosphere. This is the kind of place you can head to any time of the day: for breakfast, lunch or dinner; for a snack or for a more leisurely meal; for evening drinks with some appetizers. It’s a great place to meet friends, but also good if you’re alone. And you may be sure that if I worked nearby I’d be joining the queues regularly for takeaway. So, next time you’re in central London and want a coffee or snack, head to Princi to add a fabulous touch of Italy to your day.
For a later review (April 2014) see: Princi Pizzeria