In 2005, the Italian chain Fratelli la Bufala opened a franchise in Hampstead. As with its Italian brethren, it served up buffalo both as delectable mozzarella, and as fine-grained meat. It was a good neighbourhood Italian restaurant. Over time, the Hampstead brother drifted away from the original formula, but hey, that’s what happens when the family grows up.
Then in 2012, the extended family fell out. The Hampstead restaurant changed name, and is now called Mimmo la Bufala. The Italian side of the family decided to open their own branch – closer to what is now the formula they use for their international chain of 100 restaurants, from Dubai to the US, right in the heart of tourist London.
This new Fratelli screams ‘chain restaurant’, from the identikit furnishings (plate glass, wipe-clean tables) to the branded aprons and menus. On our visit the service from our all-Italian waiting staff was neither coordinated nor attentive, but was pleasant enough.
Our buffalo steak, served on a sizzling cast-iron grill pan, was oddly bland, though we liked the retro-style, hand-cut crisps served with the dish. The mozzarella wasn’t as fresh as we’d have hoped for in a restaurant where this is part of their USP; our cheese was slightly dried out, and a little too rubbery in texture. A starter dish of salad, and a separate side dish of a differently-named salad, used near-identical ingredients – yet our waiter didn’t warn us of this duplication when we ordered. A pizza was made with good quality dough, but the base could have been much crisper and less dough-like.
Fratelli la Bufala is a mid-market, prominently-situated, perfectly adequate Italian restaurant serving grills and pizzas for tourists and passing trade. But if you’re looking for a really good Italian restaurant, with creative cooking and well-trained staff, you can do much better than this in central London.