New Beginnings for Ponti's with the re-launch of their Italian Kitchen, I talk to Stefano Ispani about food, family and salame felino.
Ponti's has been around since the early 1960s, why is now the time for a revamped Ponti's Italian Kitchen?
My father, with the help of his uncle “Zio” Johnny, opened the first caffe in 1963 at a time when London was experiencing an invasion of Italian culture, with many Italians coming to the city to open cafés and restaurants. Ponti's rode the wave and did well, however, we realised by the mid 90’s that the old counter concept was becoming tired and outmoded.
Sadly in September 2001 my Father passed away and a new MD took over. In 2007, understanding that customers wanted a very different experience to what the old tray style operation was able to offer, we decided to make more radical changes. The previous MD left and I took charge. With a re-invigorated team we started the process of reclaiming the brand, focusing our efforts on what we were good at rather than trying to compete within an already crowded market. Food was the first thing we knew we could do well – so we concentrated on the brilliant produce and culinary heritage of Emilia Romagna, the region of Italy where my family comes from. The idea is to celebrate the family heritage of the business through the provenance of the food. Secondly, we knew that we had to offer a remarkable service at a level our customers would not be able to find anywhere else. We really hope that these core values shine through at Ponti's Italian Kitchen.
Ponti's Italian Kitchen is all about a more premium offering, what makes it special?
I've already mentioned the attention we pay to the provenance of the food we serve. Produce from Emilia Romagna is exceptional; we don't serve Grana Padana parmesan but a superior Parmigiano Reggiano and the Salame Fellino comes from a particular producer near to where the family originates in Piacenza (the hometown of Giorgio Armani!). Our Tortelli Piacentini are also individually hand-made in Piacenza. This makes all the difference, as the local water, eggs and flour that go into the pasta are totally distinctive and not something you can replicate here in the UK.
We have close ties to one of the most respected restaurants in the area, called “Il Falco di Riva Alta” with whom we exchange recipes and swap ideas - Sabrina, their head chef comes over to help with new recipes. We are creating new dishes too, new generation twists on the classics - our Italian Kitchen Burger uses award winning beef but comes with provolone cheese and Pancetta on a handmade roll specially imported for us from Italy. All our desserts and cakes are either hand-made on the premises by our chefs or by one of London’s top bakeries to our own special recipes and delivered daily. We really feel that there is no other upper mid-market Italian eatery providing the same quality of food at the prices we offer.
Tell me what else is on the menu?
Obviously we have great Pizza; the toppings are limited to classic and authentic choices. Our Antipasti comes on olive wood boards with mixed meats like salame felino, mortadella, coppa, prosciutto crudo all from Emilia Romagna of course and carefully chosen. We have kept things simple and hope that the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves. We have tried to offer something for everyone. I know that Italian food can be carb heavy so we have lighter salads, soups and some freshly made sandwiches. We recognise that to be successful we have to get as much trade out of each day as possible so we serve breakfasts. You can get Italian style pancakes, our take on more classic full cooked choices, fresh pastries etc…
Ponti's Italian Kitchen isn't just a restaurant, what else is available for customers?
There is the open kitchen with its wood-stone oven and all the produce we use on display. We also sell lots of ingredients and products that are not available from supermarkets - cheese, wine, meat and olive oil can all be bought here. Sales have far surpassed our original expectations. Our Lavazza Tierra coffee bar is also a great feature, we do take-away coffee all day. We really are a multi-functional outfit, that can be used by customers for whatever purpose. If you want a full service dining experience of the highest quality with wine and a Grappa to finish, great, but equally, we want to serve those who want a cappuccino and pastry in the morning. Our ‘Scuola Pizza’ is very exciting, we run sessions teaching people how to make pizza our way and they get hands-on with the dough and toppings.
What's next for Ponti's, can we expect a roll-out of Ponti's Italian Kitchens?
We are focusing very much on the now with what we have here, rolling out an idea doesn't always work in every location, we are taking it one step at a time. The old style Ponti's will be getting a makeover, we have launched the new style Caffe Italia branding that will be gradually upgrading the old stock. But ultimately it’s the customers who decide whether we rise or fall, they are the people we want to impress with the quality of what's on offer. We hope that what we have done with Ponti's Italian Kitchen will provide customers with that genuine Italian experience and make us the place to go for exceptional food from the food heart of Italy, Emilia Romagna.
Ponti's Italian Kitchen
54 Duke Street
London W1K 6JN
Tel: 020 7629 3174
Ponti's Italian Kitchen
5-7 John Princes Street
Tel: 020 3230 3018