9 Dec 2008

Style Crunch, Style Crunch…

‘Yogi Bear ordered a pizza. The waitress asked, “How many pieces do you want your pie cut into?” Yogi responded, “Four. I don't think I could eat eight…”
‘Princi’ represents a hefty investment in cheap food. £5 million surged into its design and build. A further £1m was taken in rent, securing the site for at least two years. The minds behind are Alan Yau OBE and Rocco Princi. Yau established everyman Asian eateries ‘Wagamama’, ‘Busaba Eathai’ and ‘Cha Cha Moon’ as well as the Michelin starred ‘Hakkasan’, ‘Yauatcha’ and inclined ‘Sake No Hana’. I was recently nipped by another former Hongkonger for concentrating too closely on Italian and French cuisine. Whilst I am guilty as charged, I cannot redress such an unintended bias here. Despite Yau’s form, excepting Danish coffee, Princi is profoundly Italian. Its co-star is Rocco Princi, ‘the Armani of bread’.
The action occurs in a substantial cube lined in travertine. A 19-metre (lucky I was carrying a tape measure) trough of filtered water (not intended as potable) flows like an infinity pool along one side, agreeably splattering those pitched against it. It is intended to represent the h20 used in the pizza making process and is replenished daily. Two counters filled with lustrous treats are glass-topped and tailed in rough-hewn rock. Classical music is curiously sedate and somehow ominous when combined with the trickling water. The architect, who already works with Princi in Milan is Claudio Silvestrin who notably created the immaculate vision that is ‘L’Anima’ in the city. I keep intending to visit the latter although unlike Princi’s symbolic gully, my wallet appears to have developed a leak of late… Before Yau, most Brits would rather have died than dined right next to a stranger. For many he is famous (or infamous) for forcing us to ‘knees-up Wagamama Brown’ and Princi is no exception. The public are yet again encouraged to surrender their liberties along long, albeit rather beautiful benches. Considering the perma-bustle, you would be lucky to get that far. If you do, I guarantee, like the sofa watchers in Starbucks, those standing nearby will be marking your space: estimating your departure. The idea is to order from the counters, then pay at the till. This is no conventional, Anglo-organised buffet, however: it requires a little pre-thought (and ideally teamwork). I recommend tackling it as a trio. One soul should capture a table (or part of it) whilst another selects savouries, with the third given the serious job of bringing home the beverages. We chose four slices of freshly baked pizza, fashioned from organic flour and sprung like focaccia. I also pointed out an ambitious aubergine salad, which turned out to be bad judgment. I took care of a slightly dilute Bellini from a list light in wines, but heady in cocktails. The various pizzas, topped in an eiderdown of moist cheese must have been very good (particularly the one with cross sections of courgette) because I trespassed into three of the four portions. The tough aubergine doused in minty yoghurt and baked pumpkin seeds made for a distracting dish, however. To follow, passion fruit cheesecake was a lusciously messy, tangy heap, whilst the fruits of the forest version was riddled with astringency. A malty macchiato, marked with a shamrock, was surprisingly gentle (I would imagine too vague for most Italians). Almost all of the beautiful / handsome staff are Italian, not through aggressive gate-keeping but the rules of attraction. This is a similar scenario with the customers (estimated at 40p/c). I understand the draw. It is hard not to like what has happened on Wardour Street, directly opposite Busaba. And if we must mention prices (I am also criticised for not quoting bills – a vulgar practice which occasionally brings back sour memories) the whole deal docked at fewer than £30 (for two). Bear in mind that everything that should be fresh is spankingly so. The ingredients are outstanding, as is the expertise in the enormous engine room below.
Princi’s future looks bright, although it is going to take more than a baker's dozen of £2.50 (£2 take-away) pizza rectangles to repay the rent… 'Princi' - 135 Wardour Street, London, W1F 0UT. T. 020 7478 8888
Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Rd.
Princi on Urbanspoon