The word “chain” can send shivers down your spine. Why go to a chain when we live in London, the home of independent inventiveness. We have thousands of restaurants cropping up every single week, just waiting to lure you in with promises of grass-fed, hand-crafted, stone-milled goodness.
But that’s what makes London so truly special when it comes to its restaurant scene. Even the dreaded chains can be pretty good. Case in point, Rossopomodoro, the Neapolitan style pizzeria with outposts in Camden, Chelsea, Covent Garden, Oxford Street and the one I visited, Hoxton, among others.
I must admit, I didn’t have hugely high hopes. It’s a pizza place. How exciting can that really be unless said pizza place is located on the cliffs of Capri? But I’m not too big a person to admit when I get it wrong and Rossopomodo certainly made me turn my head for another look (and bite).
On entering, the restaurant smelled amazing. Wood and fire and fatty meat circled my nose and immediately made my snobby chain presumptions fade away. The waitress was smiley and helpful, making her own recommendations and showing her own personality – something you don’t always find in a non-independent type place.
With the starters, minds and stomachs were immediately put at ease. We went for a sampling of all of the Street Food Napoletano (£13.95) and what came out was a fairground of fried happiness. Bolognese sauce suplì rice ball; ham, green peas and mozzarella arancino rice ball; bucatini, bechamelle, green peas and mozzarella frittatina; smoked mozzarella potato crocché.
Hang on, let me catch my breath. Okay, I’m back. The sheer magnitude of it was something to behold. Other tables were looking around gasping and envious of our choice.
Then the Pizza di Scarole was served. A genius slice of homemade pizza pie stuffed with endive, olives, capers, pine nuts, raisins and anchovies. Sounds odd, but tastes absolutely dreamy. Inventive? In a chain? Who knew?
Had we have known how much was served on the Street Food platter, we may not have also gone for Eggplant Parmigiana (£6.95) as well. But you will never find me regretting a bubbling hot aubergine bake with smoked mozzarella, parmesan and tomato sauce.
It was the pizza that stole the show though (and so it should, I suppose you’ll say). I am normally one for a thin, crispy base, but Rossopomodoro may just have been the place to change my mind. We went for the Indecisa (£14.45), which seemed appropriate given we couldn’t make up our minds. The pizza, with a base that was perfectly risen and light, but still doughy, came with three sections offering three different flavours: margherita with yellow datterini tomatoes; smoked mozzarella, tomato sauce and spicy salami; and smoked mozzarella, Neapolitan sausage and Friarielli. The latter being my favourite as, again, it was truly unique in its flavouring – salty, meaty and smoky – the holy trinity when it comes to pizza.
There were a few disappointments on the night as well. The Pappardella della Nonna (£11.54) was a pretty bog standard bolognese and one I am sure I could better in my own kitchen. The Chocolate Souffle was in fact just a fondant and a cold one at that. It’s very easy to work out that your dessert isn’t being freshly prepared if it isn’t served warm.
But I’ll let those two slide because the truth is Rossopomodoro is a shining example of the fact that chains are okay. And in fact, sometimes they are great. Go for the street food and the pizza and you will leave feeling stuffed, happy and ready to open your mind to other chains and the fact that maybe, it doesn’t pay to be a chain snob.