I visited Bbuona 18 months ago to record my first ever Oxford Eats podcast. A lot has happened in the world since then but Bbuona’s charm is evergreen — the remarkable quality of authentic imported ingredients and products served in a restaurant perfectly reminiscent of an Italian bar makes stepping inside feel like teleporting to a different world. That world is one of good food, good weather, and great people.
Owner Andi first set up the restaurant alongside Alessandro as ‘Buongiorno & Buonasera’. Back then the goal was to create a Roman-style bar with authentic pinsa just one of the offerings. It quickly became clear though that pizza was the star of the show and a quick rebrand later, Bbuona was born. Now, the restaurant maintains the Italian-style bar (I often find myself standing here enjoying an espresso and a cannoli) but also operates as a more formal sit-down restaurant with table service.
Everything here is authentic — I can’t stress that enough. I brought my Italian friend here on his first day in Oxford and it is now our regular haunt. Any Italians in Oxford will find themselves in a dreamland of Ichnusa (Sicilian beer), Crodino, and products from across the country — think of it as a kind of ‘Italian greatest hits album’. The biscuits on the bar are imported from the same Sicilian people as Italiamo and some of the other desserts arrive weekly from Rome. Cheeses, salamis, and vegetables are similarly drafted in from a range of suppliers and producers.
Pinsa is a uniquely Roman pizza variety and is worth explaining. It is a much lighter, healthier, and thinner dish than the Neopolitan style that is most common in the UK. I’ve never seen it offered in England anywhere else and it is of course made in-house here daily by the team. In Rome, pinsa is traditionally prepared in the morning and heated to order by the slice but here that approach obviously isn’t sustainable. Instead, the bases are prepped by hand early on and left to rise and aerate before being dressed and cooked to order. The dough itself is completely unique — much easier to digest, it uses non-GMO rice, soy, wheat, and sourdough flours to make it 80% more hydrated than a traditional base. The same starter has been used by Bbuona since 2017 and the pressing and hand-tossing process (pinsa derives from the word pinsere, to press, in Italian) gives it its signature light and airy crust.
That focus on non-GMO products is hugely important to Andi. In fact, he is quick to point out that it is a hugely important part of Italian and Mediterranean food as a whole. Fats and carbohydrates have been a natural part of our diet for all time but he preaches the evils of the introduction of artificial sugars and other products. You simply won’t find them here.
And so on to the food — and what food it is. There is an extremely diverse range of dishes here with all price points and budgets catered for. Andi says that that is something that was important to him. Ingredients are high quality throughout all of the dishes but you can still get a pizza for less than £9. Alternatively, there is scope to go all out for the Tartufo option at £15.95 or add your own ingredients and toppings.
The new gluten-free pinsa is something that Andi is particularly passionate about. In the past, there was always a gluten-free offering but it was a Neopolitan-style base due to the extreme difficulty in creating authentic pinsa without gluten. Now though, the restaurant has partnered with a supplier in Rome to exclusively create and supply them with an authentic pinsa-style dough for gluten-free customers. Cooked on a different surface and in a different oven from the other pizzas, catering for allergies and dietary requirements is a core part of the menu at Bbuona.
From the starters, we sampled the bruschetta and they were delightful. The dish comes with three different varieties; topped with aubergine, cherry tomatoes, and peppers. The cherry tomatoes are definitely the simplest of the trio but for me their freshness was by far the most refreshing.
Salads are also on the menu for those looking for a light option and our Energetica was a very well-rounded dish. Not overdressed at all, the customer is left to drizzle any mix of oils and vinegars to their liking. The leaves are mixed with Puglian olives that pack a huge punch, cherry tomatoes, and prosciutto crudo before a grating of gran reserva Grana Padano cheese. If you manage a bite of all the elements together then the balance is perfect and the addition of some garlic and chilli oils is highly recommended. The only drawback for me was the quantity of olives. There are so many that their intense flavour does risk becoming overpowering.
The parmigiana melanzane again manages to tread that line between filling and heavy. The portion size is generous but the fact that the aubergine are grilled and not fried means that their flavour is given space to stand out. This, together with the light amount of cheese, means that the tomatoes and garlic are also able to really add the depth of flavour to the dish that is often drowned out by oil.
Pizza-wise, we got three different options. Firstly came the Bbuona. Andy’s favourite (hence taking the name of the restaurant), it is simply a tomato base with prosciutto crudo and burrata cheese. This burrata is my favourite of the many kinds of cheese here. As I have written before, I really think that many pizzas are ruined by ‘over-cheesing’. This couldn’t be more different — the burrata falls apart beautifully and the creamy interior breaks away and spreads over the base to create a cold, creamy contrast to the hot tomato base.
Alongside it we ordered the Ortolana. Coming from the Italian word for garden, ‘orto’, this is a vegan option that puts vegetables front and centre. With aubergine, peppers, olives, onions, and garlic, the flavours are intense but contrasted well with the addition of fresh basil. None of the vegan pizzas here have cheese — Andi simply hasn’t found a vegan cheese good enough to put on the menu and that should be reassuring to everyone: there is simply no compromise on flavour at Bbuona.
To try the new gluten-free base, we created our own pinsa and went slightly crazy. The addition of friarelli, anchovies, and mushrooms on an artichoke cream base meant that the centre of the base was slightly undercooked. The friarelli does jump out though and is another of the uniquely Italian offerings: a type of broccoli rabe only usually found in the Mediterranean, it has a sour and earthy flavour that make it stand out from whatever dish it is in.
Desserts here are a whole different equation. You can go crazy if you have room with the Nutella pinsa. The name though is deceiving — the base here isn’t actually Nutella but instead a different and much darker, creamier, hazelnut chocolate base that definitely makes for a dish that needs sharing. Ice cream is also on offer in all the classic flavours alongside the biscuits of several varieties that are on the bar. The hazelnut aragostine are superb but the pistachio profiterole style pastries are a different option to pair with your espresso.
Really though, that espresso wouldn’t be complete without a Bbuona cannolo. Alongside Gusto, this is one of the only places in Oxford that freshly pipes its cannoli and the only place in Oxford that will do it in front of you. There are pistachio and chocolate fillings but the star of the show is the traditional ricotta dipped in pistachios — given how hard it is to find in the UK, you would be remised to get anything else. If you are between meals when you wander through Gloucester Green, I have found that a cannolo and an espresso or cocktail at Bbuona can solve any internal crisis.
Bbuona on Gloucester Green is another one of those restaurants that I love so much. There is so much going on and yet it still manages to stay perfectly simple. The focus is on authenticity and good quality ingredients in everything that comes out of the kitchen. The sheer quantity of regulars from Oxford’s Italian community is a testament to this and you simply can’t miss the passion of every single member of the team. That passion and warmth really do make it feel like home. Whether you are in need of a pick-me-up, a midweek lunch, or a celebratory dinner, Bbuona can fit the bill for any occasion.