AMALFI COAST, LONDON. THE PERFECT PIZZA
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Nov. 14 (Bloomberg) — The idea was simple enough: tour
London with an Italian chef in search of the perfect pizza.
Francesco Mazzei of L’Anima agreed to be the culinary guide
and drew up a shortlist of pizzerias. Bloomberg Television decided
to come along with a producer and a cameraman to film the hunt.
What could go wrong? Only that we started at Franco Manca in
Brixton and were all so blown away that the rest of the day was a
washout, or rather a wine-out, as we felt it was only right to
accompany our pizzas with a glass or two of Italian wine.
“I’d give it 11 out of 10,” Mazzei said as we left Franco
Manca. “You’d be very happy to get pizza this good in Italy.”
The menu is as simple as could be: six basic pizzas starting
at 4.60 pounds ($7.19) and a choice of organic Dolcetto (red) or
Cortese (white) wine at 1.20 pounds a glass, or 6.80 pounds a
bottle. We had the red and it was so smooth I bought a bottle to
take home from Wild Caper, the eatery’s food shop next door. That
cost 5.10 pounds.
Franco Manca is owned by Giuseppe Mascoli, 50, from Positano,
on the Amalfi Coast. He uses lievito madre natural yeast and slow-
rising sourdough that he prepares 20 hours in advance. The brick
oven is from Naples, the flour from Piedmont, the organic tomatoes
from Liguria and the cheeses from Somerset. Yes, Somerset in
England, where they are made by Alham Wood Cheese.
“It’s a great thing someone coming from Italy, using English
produce and making such good pizzas,” Mazzei said. “It’s a
Naples-style pizza and it’s good because it is real. But to have
this phenomenal quality in London is unbelievable.
“It can be difficult to find good pizza in London,” he
said. “PizzaExpress is a bit like McDonald’s. There’s no
authenticity. It’s fine for families and kids but not for a pizza
connoisseur and not for a chef. I’ve never been to Pizza Hut.”
The pizza base at Franco Manca (Italian for Franco Is
Missing) is soft and pliable, in the Neapolitan style, so you can
fold it in one hand to eat it. (That’s in contrast to the thin-
and-crispy Roman base.) The cooking time is just 40 seconds, which
is fortunate because there are only a few tables at Franco Manca
and you can find yourself standing in line for a seat.
The flavors are pure, simple and distinct. Among the pizzas
we tried was a wild-mushroom one featuring girolles and trompettes
de la mort with garlic and anchovy, but no cheese. It cost 4.80
pounds and I’m going to have to go back to enjoy it again. Franco
Manca, a simple place whose tables are split either side of the
path through a south London market, is one of the most exciting
eateries I have visited this year.
After that, it was all downhill. We hadn’t realized that
many pizzerias only open at night, so we drove to Made in Italy,
in Chelsea, and Napule, Fulham, before turning up at Firezza, in
Notting Hill, which was open but devoid of customers. Firezza is a
mini-chain of London pizza parlors using menus from Naples and, in
this case, a cook from Poland. The waitress — British-Caribbean-
Sri Lankan — was sweet and even delivered the pizzas to our table
twice so that our cameraman got the angles he wanted.
“The quality of the mozzarella is good and the tomato is
good too, but it’s too chewy,” Mazzei said as he tried the
Margherita (7.90 pounds). “It’s been in the oven too long. It’s a
good-quality pizza but it’s too heavy and it can’t compare with
the last one. I’d score it five out of 10.”
Then it was off to Spaccanapoli, which has been serving
Neapolitan food in Soho for 15 years. The Margherita here is 6.95
pounds, and Mazzei scored it seven out of 10.
“It’s a nice crust, real Neapolitan: It’s perfectly cooked,
the topping is good and you can see the mozzarella is `filante,”’
he said, using the Italian word that describes the elasticity a
pizza cheese should possess. “I’m happy with the look and the
taste of this pizza, but Franco Manca blew my mind.”
We ended up at Princi, an Italian bakery that restaurateur
Alan Yau has opened on nearby Wardour Street. Rocco Princi himself
baked us pizza. I won’t quote Mazzei’s opinion because he’s a
consultant to Princi, but I can tell you it’s hard to beat the
pleasure of consuming a well-made pizza right after you watch it
being pulled out of a roaring wood-fired oven.
Hard to beat but not impossible: Franco Manca seized the day.