Sunday, 23 November 2008

princi: the prada of bakeries

walking into princi on wardour street has nothing to do with the familiar feeling of walking into the warm, fragrant local bakery back home. the suited cashier doesn’t remind me of the sweaty and loud baker i visit daily in turin at all. princi looks more like a jeweller’s than a bakery to me, but i guess that’s how it got the reputation of “prada of bakeries” in london.

the large store in the heart of soho is, indeed, classy and impressive. warm lighting, uncluttered tables, artistically arranged counters...even a fountain decorating the long wall. spending half an hour here with a warm coffee or a filling slice of pizza is certainly a stylish experience that no other italian bakery offers in london, or italy for that matter. the choice is vast, ranging from pastries and cakes to pizza slices to more complex salads and dishes. little baskets on the counters allow you to sample the different kind of breads kept behind the counters, expensive delicacies enriched by walnuts, raisins, olives and so on. everything is elaborate but classic at the same time, nothing strikes me as an unnatural adaptation of italian favourites to the english taste. i am actually tempted by most of the sweet and savoury options on display.

in the end m and i decide on the tiramisù, the ultimate test, and foamy lattes, while o chooses a pear and chocolate tart and a small cannoncino (milanese term for cannoli apparently). i’m no coffee expert, so i focus on the desserts. the chocolate and pear tart is nice and crunchy, the pastry strongly reminds me of home-made crostata. the cannoncino is a delicate affair which disappears in two bites, leaving behind a sweet memory of custard and breakfasts on the run. finally the tiramisù is a contentious affair. m is terribly disappointed by the dry sponge and the addition of a hint of orange. it’s definitely not a classic, but i can easily imagine it being served in fancy restaurants back home as an ingenious reinterpretation of an overly common desserts. all in all, i like it, although i don’t love it, the flavours merge well and match the sophisticated atmosphere.

to complete the test, i take some walnut bread home. a bit heavy, but still successful with my italian guests. i remain curious to try the cold and warm dishes that were tempting me from behind the spotless glass counters, and i wouldn’t mind coming here for a real italian aperitivo, if only they started offering those tiny but oh-so-yummy nibbles that clutter bars and cafes on any italian evening.

princi doesn’t resemble any italian bakery i know, but their loaves and pizza slices and croissants do remind me of family sunday lunches. the prices are also far from “authentic”, but that shouldn’t be a surprise in soho. after all, we’re in london, where everything is possible. then why not a trendy bakery serving tasty italian delicacies with a fountain in the background?