Ramsay’s wrinkly universal appeal aside, the celebrity of chefs tends not to travel well, as “France’s Jamie Oliver” Cyril Lignac found out when he proudly opened a place here and everyone went: “who?” — apart from those of us who went “who?” but also “I hate your restaurant”. I mention this as Pizzeria Mozza has been relentlessly hyped as the London introduction to LA’s Nancy Silverton, a certified Big Deal over there but... well, do you know her?
Silverton is, however, extremely accomplished and has for a long time been a defining culinary force in the States. She is credited as America’s breadmaker-in-chief, the woman who introduced the stars n’stripes to sourdough. Uh-oh. Granted, there’s no shortage of competition for the worst of the pandemic, but the never-ending stream of unforgivably cheery bakers Instagram-cataloguing their yeasty misadventures must be somewhere on the list. But then, who flies 5,000 miles to open a pizza parlour in a city already heaving with Italy’s finest imports? Silverton must have some big old dough balls.
Her confidence is warranted, mostly. After being plonked out of the way in the pretty dining room, my friend Josh, who’s on best, one-beer behaviour, looks up and smiles: “They have Peroni Gran Riserva. This is going to be good.” Alright, I think, but £9 for a lager? I, also on best, one-cocktail behaviour, quickly forget to keep worrying about this when a Red Hook arrives — a seraphic pool of rye, vermouth and sweet maraschino liqueur. It is neatly named, quickly snaring me into a second; whoever’s behind the bar is a corrupting influence. But then, I’ve always enjoyed being corrupted.
Still, bar this is not. The clue is in the name: pizza stars, but types wearily worried about their waistline can avoid all those carbs with the starters, salads and plates of salami. Mozza’s kitchen does that thing where, even for a table of two, everything arrives in odd numbers, making sharing three cobs of corn a chore, not having to hand a hacksaw to divvy up the one left spare. Our trio has been roasted till they’re sweet like caramel, harboured in a lake of chilli oil and under the wash of great spoonfuls of gooey, cheesy butter. We decide we like it too much to mind about gnawing from the same piece, not quite Lady and the Tramp but cutely close.
Josh is mournful at the idea of arancini alla Bolognese — “never trust a place serving arancini but not risotto,” he counsels wisely — but I’m paying, so seven arrive under a snowfall of pecorino, rice nicely sticky, Bolognese shy. A gentle tweak is all that’s needed.
Conventional wisdom has it that the best pizza is all in the base, which isn’t entirely true or else the no-pineapple fascists wouldn’t have made it into office. Silverton’s conceit is to mix multiple bread flours to make her dough, and the style is its own: this is neither Chicago’s hateful deep dish nor New York crisp, nor Neopolitan or Roman. She has created something airy and soft, only a little chewy.
It is the second best bit of a PLT, where fat-streaked pancetta wins out, all affably salty and smoky. Pops of roasted tomatoes punch through. The only mistake is synthetic onion cream, done in lines like yellow mustard on a baseball game hot-dog. Josh’s alla Benno is the titled cousin of the hated Hawaiian but here, on rather too little tomato sauce, ham is swapped for linen-fine sheets of speck and pineapple sliced similarly, adding just a spark of sweetness. Jalapeño peppers prickle the tongue. He is content enough.
There is no wine, rejected on moral grounds — it is reprehensibly hoggish for a pizza joint to start the list at £36 — but we can’t leave without a slice of banana gelato pie. It is a skyscraper with a helipad of cream and looks like it’s straight out of the Happy Days diner but swerves the artificial, Fifties sweetness. Delicious. We leave in two minds but with plans to pop by again; I’ll need to wait and see but there might just be enough here to make Silverton a star this side of the pond, too.
14-15 Langham Place, W1B 2QS. Meal for two plus drinks, incl service, around £120. Open Tuesday - Saturday, 5pm-11pm; pizzeriamozza.com