In the elusive search for the “best pizza in London” a couple of names usually pop up in foodie circles: Franco Manca in Brixton Market and Donna Margherita in Battersea. The premises are simple, the walls crowded with framed photos, and an outdoor terrace that was ideal on this hot summer evening. The wine list has moderately priced wines from obscure Italian producers. Starters are £4.50 - £8.25, pizzas are £5.50 - £10.50, main courses £9.50 - £12.95. There is a wood-fired oven (though this is itself guarantees nothing; if you doubt this then eat at Strada), and the owner came up to us and told us the food here is “fabulous”, so it is not a place lacking in self-confidence, though he may have a slight vested interest.
The pizza base was fairly thin, reasonably puffed up and was cooked fine, but the base was not as airy an ideal pizza should be (I wonder just how hot the oven really gets here). Moreover the toppings were decent but undistinguished. We tried three different pizzas between us, and I did not get any sense that the toppings we tried were the result of any careful research into sourcing (again compare and contrast with Franco Manca). Garlic bread was extremely good, being supple in texture and having good garlic flavour, but bruschetta was ordinary (it might seem difficult to make much of toast with some tomatoes on top, but it can be done e.g. the version at Zafferano when they put their mind to it).
We ordered pizza here since that is what this place is known for, but there were plenty of other Italian dishes, and perhaps in retrospect we should have ordered more widely from the menu. I found the garlic bread actually to be the best thing we ate here by some margin, and the quality of this is why I am puzzled by the ordinariness of the pizza itself. Certainly the pizza was better than those served in restaurant chains, but I actually prefer the pizza at my local Tarantella (another place with a pizza chef from Naples) to this, while to evoke comparison with the superb Franco Manca pizzas seems absurd to me based on my visit. I went with a knowledgeable foodie companion who lives yards from the restaurant. To be fair, he had warned me not to expect too much, and he was also underwhelmed, saying that he while had once eaten better here he had also had very ordinary experiences too. Perhaps the kitchen is capable of something more than was on offer tonight, but it was not obvious from what we tried. I’d be very happy if this was at the end of my road, but this is not somewhere to make a special journey to. Perhaps I should have just stopped at the garlic bread and gone home. In summary: Brixton Market 1, Battersea 0.