Going off the recommendation off our friend, Jamie (journalist James Lawrence), we had to visit Franco Manca. Having burned up calories shopping along Tottenham Court Road we definitely needed it.
Franco Manca, like my other London favourite Honest Burger, started off at Brtixton Market, the recent foodie Shangri-La. Brain child of South African and winner of the Young British Foodies’ Best New Alchemist of the Oven award in 2012, Bridget Hugo and Italian Giuseppe Mascoli (affectionately known as the ‘Monarch of the market’). The franchise draws its inspiration from classic Neapolitan pizzerias.
One thing that instantly stood out was the sound of authentic Italian voices. The place, staffed with mostly Italians, was alive with their bright and familiar chatter, bellowing orders and conversing all in the Romantic tongue. It all added to the authenticity of the place.
The interior is typical of recent London eateries. Exposed, fiery red brick; miss-matched, vintage wooden chairs; a specials board scribbled in chalk – it feels very humble, and stripped back. But, there are nuances of an Italian theme, with elegant yet simple tables of deeply veined black and white marble tables, and the centrepiece that makes this place so special, the pizza oven. Heated to roughly 450-500°C, it cooks the pizzas in a literal minute! Which brings me to what we came here for, their pizza!
Sporting a simple menu of just 6 pizza options (plus daily specials) and a couple of salad options, it is very clear that this place isn’t a Jack of all trades, but a master of one. Much like Honest Burger, its strength is the simplicity of its menu – instantly recognisable, memorable – in other words, easy to tell all your friends about around the water cooler or, indeed, to tweet about on social media.
Tom ordered the 3 and I ordered the 4 ( with some Italian sausage for 1.95 extra, because I’m a greedy bugger) and a couple of lagers. Sadly, they didn’t have the craft lagers that we wanted, so we settled on a pair of Asahi’s, but the crisp notes of the Japanese larger complimented the pizza regardless! The place also has a well priced selection of organic Italian wine, which are punchy and “minerally driven” (according to the website).
The pizzas arrived shortly after the lager, presented to us, humble in their simplicity but sitting proudly on the plate. Worlds away from dull, cardboard frozen pizzas and the in your face American pizzas, this was the true Neapolitan experience, one that let the quality ingredients sing for themselves, without the need for sweet, sticky sauces or an abundance of toppings.
They are so proud of their ingredients, they have a page on their menu, listing them and their provenance, from the peppery, organic olive oil, from Sicily, to Gloucester Old Spot, (sourced from The Country Butcher, Gloucestershire) that goes towards making their ham and their home cured Italian sausage, showcasing a perfect marriage between quality, British ingredients and punchy Italian flavours.
The 4 came loaded with “GLOUCESTER OLD SPOT HAM (Home Cured ), MOZZARELLA, BUFFALO RICOTTA, WILD MUSHROOMS (Little tomato)” and when I bit into it, it was like taking a bite out of a Northern Italian forest, with a deep, rich earthiness from the wild mushrooms, a tangy creaminess from the Mozzarella and the Ricotta, a salty, meaty kick from the thick pieces of Gloucester Old Spot ham and a punch in the chops from the additional sausage, studded with fennel seeds, brining their anise-tinged goodness to the fore.
I also tried some of Tom’s, who ordered the 3. The bitter, strong, metallic taste of the broccoli was lush!
And the dough itself deserves a paragraph in its own right. It’s comprised of a specially milled organic white flour from Molino Caputo (from Naples) and a sourdough culture that dates from somewhere in the 1730s. Amalgamated, they become a very special thing indeed. It has a tangy, somewhat sweet and complex flavour profile to it – and somehow, even with their scorchingly hot ovens, the crust magically remains soft and pillowy, with just the right amount of crispness. It’s divine!
And from only £4.50 for a pizza, it’s hard to beat in London and even in Swansea! Especially for its quality!
Full from our lovely Italian via di fuga, we called for the bill (of only £11.13 each) and made our way back into the bustling streets of London for some more design shopping,
Seriously, if you are in London, you have to go here!
IT’S CHEAP, ORGANIC AND SO TASTY!