Franco Manca Revisited
Where can you find great pizza? Originally from Napoli, Pizza has travelled the world as a street food staple. In doing so, it became much traduced. Napoli finally introduced a law that protects traditional pizza by specifying the ingredients and cooking methods. Fortunately, there is also great pizza in the UK. One such place is at Franco Manca. However, lovers of stuffed crusts and pineapple toppings should look away now.
Real pizza isn’t a thick gunk laced with salt, sugar, and fat. Neither does it come with hundreds of ghastly toppings that offer everything from curry to chocolate. Yes, chocolate.
The key to it is simplicity, using a wood-burning brick oven operating at around 500° C. This blast-cooks a pizza to perfection in forty seconds. The result will be thin, crisp at the edge (the cornicione), and gently charred.
Traditional toppings are best. Tomato, cheese, basil, oregano, garlic, capers, salami, anchovies, olives, mushrooms, artichokes, rocket and seafood offer all the variations needed.
I’ve had some memorable pizza experiences as I am a pizzaiolo. At a smoky Trattoria in Napoli; an olive market in Nyons; outdoors in Tuscany; up the back of La Boqueria in Barçelona. I can add Franco Manca to that list.
Franco Manca started in Brixton in 2008 by Neapolitan expat Giuseppe Mascoli and Marco Parente. When I went in 2010, Franco Manca had four branches in London. However, so successful are they that there are now nineteen. If you’re in London, there’s one nearby.
The secret weapon at Franco Manca is their sourdough pizza bases. The flour is from Napoli and the sourdough starter comes from a mother culture there that is 200 years old! The sourdough is left to rise for at least twenty hours before hand shaping and cooking.
The quality of all the other ingredients is also peerless; being organic and artisanal. Mozzarella is from British Buffalo herds; the Salami comes from Brindisi, ham from rare-breed Gloucester Old-Spot pigs. Even wild mushrooms are used, including Chanterelles when they are in season.
An authentic oven imported from Napoli forms the centrepiece at every branch. Well-scrubbed dining tables await while a friendly welcome and noisy guests add to an authentically Italian atmosphere.
There are just six main choices of pizza, plus a few specials up on the chalkboard. That is enough choice. A typical Franco Manca pizza has tomato, garlic, oregano, capers, olives, mozzarella, and anchovies. The tomato-less pizza features ham, mozzarella, buffalo ricotta and wild mushrooms and is every bit its equal. All are generously sized yet cost between £4.50 and £6.95 each.
Another surprise is the drinks list, offering a selection of organic and biodynamic Italian wines imported directly. Their most expensive wine, a Barbera, is great value at £17.50. A good Bianco or Rosso by the tumbler is only £3.75. The craft beers are good too.
Prices are stunning for the quality on offer, especially in London, so you can afford to tip, which all goes to the staff.
The pizza arrives quickly, supplied with friendly, informal service and a bottle of olive oil. Crisp edges and light bases with charred blisters on the underside, buttery mozzarella, huge flavours. Being sourdough, you don’t feel afterwards like you’ve swallowed a Zeppelin. If you can manage it, there are also various starters, salads and desserts.
I have tried valiantly to keep up as new branches have opened, finding in them a remarkable consistency of quality and service. My favourite remains one of the older ones, in Chiswick. However, the Franco Manca empire is still growing. New branches this year are spreading out to Guildford, Bromley, and Brighton.
A hugely enjoyable taste of Italy, Franco Manca is artisanal gourmet pizza at street food prices. They have rightly become very popular. As there’s no booking (except at Chiswick), expect to queue at busy times.
I’ll be back again soon! Guildford next, I think.
A fully updated article based on the original from October 2009