In the restaurant world, being busy with customers on a Monday night is a good sign. And being an Italian restaurant busy with Italian customers on a Monday night is a very good sign.
Passione e Tradizione opened five months ago on West Green Road and it’s already got everyone talking.
It is the second restaurant from Mustapha Mouflih, the young chef behind raved-reviewed Anima & Cuore in Kentish Town. And like his first venture, this one is also likely to see customers trekking across London for dinner.
By focusing on traditional Italian offerings, Mustapha quickly made a name for himself in Camden. But he still dreamt of one thing: a bigger kitchen.
So when the pizzeria on West Green Road came up for sale, more or less across the street from his flat, he decided to take the plunge.
“I would come here to get pizza on my day off,” says Mustapha.
“The owner said he was selling and I thought, why not? At the time, I just wanted a bigger kitchen to prepare more food in.But then I thought, why not make it a restaurant, too?”
But don’t be impressed by his credentials alone – be impressed by the food.
The menu is simple, as with a typical Italian trattoria, but still innovative.
Plates like tuna tartare and ox cheek polenta are listed on the blackboard and change from week to week, while sourdough pizza and homemade gelato (36 flavours!) are a staple.
Every dish is made fresh, baked and prepared from scratch, in Mustapha’s kitchen.
“Every single thing on the menu is made here,” he says with pride. “Even down to the chilli-jam. We only use ingredients that are fine and fresh – as nature intended, I like to say. If you like food, you’ll like all our dishes.”
His passion shows in every meal he serves, and his work ethic – running two busy restaurants – is unbelievable.
Italian-born and of Moroccan descent, Mustapha went to culinary school in Lake Garda before coming to London nearly ten years ago.
He spent his early years here working in Mayfair Michelin-starred restaurants, saving his money and buying used-kitchen equipment from Italian restaurants going out of business.
When he had amassed enough equipment and savings for a restaurant of his own, he and a friend opened Anima & Cuore. They started it as an ice-cream parlour, selling desserts and macarons.
But then he began adding a few fresh pasta dishes to the menu. Before he knew it, he had food critics visiting and bookings for months in advance.
“It is luck, hard work, but also a bit of fate that got me here,” Mustapha says with a grin.
“There is no secret, other than making good authentic Italian food. People recognise good food when they eat it!”
The food at Passione e Tradizione tastes as the name implies: traditional and made with passion. And while some of the dishes are expensive, they are generally the more exotic offerings like British veal and Scottish beef.
There is certainly enough options to keep within a low budget by sticking to pasta and pizza.
White truffles, avocado purée, cucumber sorbet… to say it is a rare treat to have such a restaurant in the area is an understatement.
“I love being in the kitchen, I love what I’m doing. Honestly, I’m living my dream,” he says.
His dream may well also include creating a new local Italian deli. Mustapha already has his eye on a nearby venue to set it up.
And while Passione e Tradizione isn’t currently booked up months in advance, like his Kentish Town restaurant, it is certainly busy on a Monday evening.
Our advice is: make sure you get there before the crowds arrive.
Words: Nicole Val
Images: André Ainsworth