Franco Manca in Brixton Market is something of a legend amongst foodies; open only for lunch, people queue around the block to eat its pizzas. Now the residents of Chiswick can sample the same food on their doorsteps. The key to Franco Manca is the obsession with detail, which extends from the food to even to the décor here. The lovely tiled floor uses tiles (some dating back to the 16th century) from a villa in Naples that was damaged in the earthquake in 1980; piece of damaged tiles are used to decorate the pizza oven. The mural at the back of the premises was painted by an 87 year old artist, Enzo Apicella, who was once the cartoonist for the Economist. The pizza oven is a wood-burning “Tufae” oven constructed on the site by builders from Naples, and weighs eight tons, getting to 550C. Owner Giuseppe Mascoli is originally from Naples but has lived in London for many years (he also owns private members club Black’s in Soho), and was heavily involved with the beginning of the Slow Food movement.
The pizza base is a sourdough base that is rested for over 20 hours, while the toppings are carefully sourced: tomatoes from Salerno, cured meats from Brindisa, Gloucester Old Spot pork. Even the coffee, from the Monmouth Street Coffee Company, is a blend of three coffees commissioned especially for Franco Manca. Lemonade is produced from Amalfi lemons.
The result of all this effort is a pizza that has a lovely texture to the crust, crisp on the outside yet soft. Sad foodie that I am, I was there early to ensure that I ate the very first pizza produced from the oven on the restaurant’s first service when it opened. It was a classic of tomato, mozzarella and basil, and cost £5.30. Note the price, which is less than the pizza chains that populate our high street for a product that bears no comparison with the superb creations here (the costliest pizza on the menu was £6.80 when it opened). Service at the Chiswick branch is friendly but rather forgetful, but despite the crowds that it now attracts the staff still manage to be welcoming.
As I have written before, I have considerable difficulty assigning a score here. It is as good a pizza as you are likely to find (certainly as good as any I have eaten, along with that of Santa Maria and Sacro Cuore), and yet at the end of the day it is a pizza, not a dish involving complex sauces and loving presentation as you would find in a top Michelin-starred restaurant. However, no one wants to eat elaborate food every day, and it is a delight to see someone with such passion trying to produce the very finest pizza that can be made.
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