Pappa Roma is near South Kensington tube station, in premises that used to house another Italian restaurant called Da Spago until 2014. The head chef here is Nicola Rexha, who has been with the restaurant since it opened, and I believe used to work at the previous incarnation here too. His “From the Woods” pizza won the best pizza at the UK National Pizza Award 2017 competition. However the menu offers a full range of Italian dishes, not just pizza. The dining room is simple but quite cosy; it is a little old-fashioned in a pleasant way, with a few shelves decorated with wine bottles and assorted knick-knacks.
The wine list had less than two dozen selections and ranged in price from £17.95 to £49.95. Sample labels included Grillo Vitesse 2016 from Sicily at £19.95 for a bottle that can be found in the high street for £10, Chianti Melini Risevra 2013 at £29.25 compared to its retail price of £12, and Cantine San Silvestre Barolo Patres 2012 at £49.95 for a wine that will set you back £23 in a shop.
Given that the pizza award was what had drawn my attention here, this is what we focused on. One we tried was a mushroom and artichoke pizza and the other was the pizza di bosco that had won the national award. This was topped with wild mushrooms, two year aged ham, stracciatella di buffalo (a buffalo milk cheese from Foggia in Apulia on the east coast of Italy). Mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes and black truffle shavings. The truffles sadly lacked any aroma, and I strongly suspect that they were one of the cheaper varieties of truffle (such as the Tuber Uncinatum Chatin) rather than the more prized black truffle Tuber Melanosporum Vitt, which is what one might have hoped for at £19.95 for a pizza. Whatever type of truffle it really was, it might as well not have bothered turning up for all the flavour or aroma that it provided. The base was decent but no more than that, with none of the bubbling of the dough that you get with a really hot oven. Indeed when I asked how long the pizza took to make (the ideal for a Naples style pizza is under a minute) I was told “five, maybe ten minutes”, which does not suggest a particularly hot oven or indeed, much in the way of cookery precision. Overall, both pizzas were in 11/20 territory, so quite what alternatives were on offer at this year’s “National Pizza Awards”, or the criteria used there, is anyone’s guess.
On the side I ordered a rocket, cherry tomato and Parmesan salad, which arrived without any dressing. To be fair there was oil and vinegar on the table, so we made our own salad dressing, but this seems to me a bit of an omission in a restaurant. The rocket had a decent peppery bite and was generous in size, as well it might be at a hefty £6.95. By now I was rather nervous about ordering dessert, but these were better than I was expecting. Tiramisu had quite good texture and plenty of coffee flavour (13/20) and a lemon cheesecake with marscapone cheese. This had a decent pastry base and pleasant lemon flavour, with a little red fruit couils drizzled over it (13/20). Coffee, a brand called Bonani, was a touch bitter to my taste, but drinkable. The bill came to £44 a head with beer to drink. One slight irritation was that a bowl of olives, which had appeared unprompted when we were waiting for our pizzas, were charged for, though we had not ordered them. Service was functional at best. Overall, while this was an acceptable meal, especially at the dessert stage, the quality of the pizza does not compare well with a whole range of other places in London, such as nearby Pizzicotto, never mind the really top places like Santa Maria and L’Oro di Napoli.