Mimmo La Bufala, Hampstead
Continuing in the search for London's ultimate pizza, I recently happened across an article in Time Out and was surprised to see an Italian restaurant mere minutes away from my house that I had never heard of - Mimmo La Bufala - being put forward for this very accolade. Somehow I must have walked past this lovely looking restaurant countless times without even noticing it, so this weekend we set out to remedy this straight away and booked a table for Saturday night. Any Hampstead based Italian has a lot to live up to in my book as L'Antica, which I bang on about all the time, is pretty hard to beat. Mimmo La Bufala is a totally different kind of restaurant to L'Antica though; with about three times as many tables and a bigger menu encompassing meat and fish as well as the usual pizza and pasta, plus it is a world away in terms of formality - all white tablecloths, proper napkins and glam decor - so there is plenty of room for both of them.
I started with a very very good Caprese, which had stand-out mozzarella di bufala drizzled with a perfectly seasoned pesto oil. The menu actually says "The bufala cheese from Campania is appreciated by everyone who has had the pleasure of experiencing it, due to its tenderness and delicate taste" and they are not wrong.
Here it is in all its buffalo milky glory. It was so creamy that it was hard to believe it wasn't actually burrata:
Coversely, Rich had ordered the burrata with parma ham from the specials board and sadly it was not at all special. It was almost as if the kitchen had mixed up the two cheeses, as the burrata really lacked the necessary silken creaminess. It was still tasty though and the parma ham was beautiful enough to justify the price, which was almost double that of the Caprese.
We'd visited Mimmo La Bufala with the express purpose of testing out the pizzas, so Rich willingly took one for the team and ordered the Pizza Nonna - a bianca pizza with friarelli (fancy Southern Italian broccoli that is a bit like tenderstem crossed with spinach), Napolitan sausage and a touch of chilli. Basically the same pizza as the unbeaten Caravaggio from L'Antica and the Salsiccia E Friarielli at Pizza Pilgrims - you can read more about these here. Mimmo La Bufala's Nonna fared very well. The base was unmistakably wood fired, the mozzarella we already know is very good and the friarelli was as it should be. The Napolitan sausage just missed that earthy fennel tang that L'Antica get so right, but I really am splitting hairs here. I would happily eat that Nonna every day of my life, and probably will do for a sizeable proportion of it.
Upsettingly I only got to nick a slice or so of it, as I'd ordered the Osso Bucco on pumpkin risotto - which I think was the most expensive item on the menu at about £24.95 (everything else is more around the £14 mark). I haven't seen Osso Bucco on a menu for yonks and I really fancied it, so I was very happy to discover that the risotto was cooked perfectly with plenty of warming saffron to season, and more than a little parmesan to help it on its way. The Osso Bucco itself had been cooked slowly and thoughtfully and delivered the umami-like savoury and sticky notes from the marrow working its way into the meat and sauce whilst still retaining a nice vealy bite. I ate every last scrap and made a mental note to make it at home soon.
By this point we were so buoyed with our own success at discovering a new neighbourhood restaurant we could love and cherish that we felt bold enough to order pudding and cheese - despite being royally stuffed. Having established the tiramisu (and all the dolci, thank goodness) were made by the kitchen, I ordered away and received a thoroughly pleasant little dish of coffee and alcohol soaked Savoiardi biscuits with mascarpone. The Italians aren't known for their cheeseboards and sometimes you'll find you're given some parmesan (!), but there was one on the menu here featuring taleggio, a blue which escapes me, and another soft cheese all served with wild honey (my fave cheeseboard accompaniment), so that was a nice surprise too.
The bill was about £140 but we'd had two bottles of the house red (it was a Saturday night, ok?) and a fantastic time. On our way out we were met by Mimmo himself who had been buzzing around the restaurant all evening, helping to serve food and being generally convivial, which really added to the atmosphere of the place. We're looking forward to coming back soon, and I'm already thinking about the carpaccio of octopus and the paccheri that I'll be ordering.