Pizzeria Mozza. Leaving me cold.
Before you say it, yes, I know that Langham Place is not in Oxfordshire, but in my defence, I never said I wouldn’t review London. And I wasn’t intending to write about PM before I arrived and had I agreed with the glowing reviews, I’d have left it at that.
I know that Nancy Silverton is restaurant royalty and coupled with the reviews, I was expecting the hype to be justified. For this is an outpost of the LA original but sadly, I’m not sure that it has quite survived in the translation. I know she was around at the launch. Maybe that made a difference.
This feels a lot like an upmarket Vegas pizza restaurant and don’t get me wrong, I like Vegas, in fact I love Las Vegas, for its vulgarity and brashness and tackiness and scale. Give me The Cheesecake Factory in Caesar’s Palace with the fake Lost City Of Atlantis going off every few minutes in front of it and I’m truly happy. It’s the essence of the American dream to me, that part of the American dream which is about believing that you can recreate the Eiffel Tower in the desert, obviating the need for Americans to actually travel to see the original. Because in Las Vegas, you can buy anything. Except good taste.
And you will find some of the best chef names in the world in Vegas, including Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon, but the restaurants are, in my view, a pastiche of the original French versions. Sometimes the greatness of a restaurant is linked to terroir. You can’t bring the soil with you. And I don’t think that the terroir at the top of Regent Street is quite the same as that of Los Angeles, however much we might want to pretend that it is.
We are seated in an out of the way corner, surrounded entirely by glass and it’s cold and I feel like a goldfish. To be fair, I had requested a quiet table, but I generally prefer not to eat in a see-though fridge, so we ask to move. As we sit down at our new table, a cold blast from the aircon directly above hits me. And it is quite dark as we are in a spot devoid of lighting. I do not want to move again. C is already well down the path of making The Face.
Within a minute of being seated he has complained about the chair and is making noises about the back of it digging into his L3. He likes to be specific about such things, so that I know exactly where it is the problem lies. There is, I know, some furniture that is made to be deliberately uncomfortable, so that you are forced to be active, or even not to stay very long. These chairs would work on both counts. The backs are too low and are comprised of strips of thin metal and whilst they look stylish, they are not built for comfort.
We are joined by J, which is good, because not only do we get to order more food, but J is stimulating company even if his presence causes C to launch into an inappropriate discussion about the fall of Berlin in 1945 and the method by which Hitler took his own life. There is a time and a place. This is not it.
After some pretence at consultation, I choose the antipasti, because that is my job. C is banging on about the White Bean alla Toscana with Radicchio and Saba. I cannot see anywhere in my searches that alla Toscana means on a slab of bread. If I was forced to commit, I would have said that it would be a white bean salad on a bed of radicchio, with some dressing made of the Saba, which is a concentrated grape must, if you must know. They might have mentioned the bread, given that it makes up a substantial part of the dish.
More in line with the description is the cauliflower fritti. Spot on. Crisp, not greasy, with a great spicy mint aioli. Order these. And because we are already way down the carb highway, there is no point in avoiding the fried potatoes with Ceci, sage and rosemary. Ceci. Otherwise known as chickpeas. I know this sounds like I’m looking for trouble, but why not go the whole hog and call it patate fritti with salva and rosmarino? Why pick on ceci/chickpeas? I bet they get bored with people asking what ceci are.
Moving on, the patate fritti were fabulous. Order them. And the portions were good too; generous. They came with an (unadvertised) aioli (what is is with this menu?) which elevated the dish to such an extent that its omission from the description is one of life’s mysteries.
If the meal had ended there, this would be a different review. A much better one. For despite the lighting of gloom and doom, the too-loud music, the poor acoustics, not to mention the uncomfortable chairs and the arctic aircon, the starters were tasty and well-executed.
But this is, obviously, a pizza restaurant and it must live and die by the quality of its pizzas. And incidentally, I’d like to have finished my starter before the pizzas arrived. I do like prompt service, but an overlap? Not so much.
I ordered the sprout pizza. Not because I was being contrary but because I genuinely like sprouts and thought that they could work with the other ingredients, pancetta, red onion, Parmesan and pecorino. But it was insufficiently moist on top and worse, lukewarm. It was also not very interesting. The crust was very chewy and became hard work once it cooled down even further. I left some. I am not sure that I have ever left some pizza. But soggy-bottomed, lukewarm pizza gave me a glimpse into a world where I could leave something on my plate.
C wasn’t happy that he hadn’t spotted the lack of tomato sauce on the menu description of the Fennel Sausage, panna, (why not call it cream?) fior di latte and scallions. I think it’s fair to say he likes the more trad tomato base. But that aside, again, he wasn’t blown away by it. OK, was the damning-with-faint-praise response. But also dry and again, lukewarm. J, on the other hand, won at dinner with his choice of the ‘Nduja with Frigatelli peppers, tomato and smoked Scamorza. He particularly praised the crust. His came shortly after ours and was hot. You had one job.
C looked at me in surprise as I said I was going to have a dessert. “I thought you wouldn’t want the calories” he ventured. Brave or stupid? You decide. I had been duly influenced into the Banana Gelato Pie by Instagram. I won’t even pretend that doesn’t happen. The best thing about it was the caramelised hazelnuts. In terms of banany-ness, the gelato needs to visit Gelupo for lessons in flavour. I left half. Please read that again.
C’s deconstructed Mozza sundae was well presented and ticked the boxes. He doesn’t do self -assembly though, so I had to sort it. The Face softened. t I could take a bit of the chocolate sauce for myself as I needed extra. J’s Butterscotch Budino was the clear winner. A grown up version of Birds Angel Delight, in a good way. Order that.
It wasn’t just the pizza which left me cold, it was the whole place. It wasn’t bad, it was simply not the den of fabulousness that a delve into the reviews would suggest. On our way out the (very helpful and efficient) manager asked how the food was. I was going to answer properly, but I could see that he wasn’t even looking at me anymore so I gave an unenthusiastic “good” under my breath, so I could leave without drama. It wasn’t bad enough to complain about, but it wasn’t good enough to enthuse about either. We all agreed that the pizza at Oliveto, our regular pizza joint of choice, was superior. It’s not trendy or glitzy and some of the regulars are a bit too booming voices of Belgravia for my liking, but it does the job. I’m afraid Pizzeria Mozza left me cold, in more ways than one.