Sometimes it felt like I was the only person on earth yet to try one of the fabled, slow-rising sourdough pizzas from Brixton’s Franco Manca. While the internet melted with praise, like buffalo mozzarella in their wood fired ovens, trying to get to down to Brixton Market during their limited opening hours proved the sticking point. Needless to say, with all the other distractions on the
eating scene, it never quite happened. London
Since their opening days the Brixton branch now boasts late night opening at weekends and the chain has grown to add three further branches, in
Northcote Road and Chiswick High Street (where you can even book a table). After a hot and tiring Bank Holiday walking around Westfield, (read falling asleep on the lawn after a picnic…) a points failure at Kew Gardens Edgware Road made us reconsider our route home and jump off the Tube at Turnham Green. Just in time for an early evening pizza and well deserved bottle of (organic) vino.
The pizzas at Franco are in the traditional Neapolitan style, and while the pizza eaters of Southern Italy aren't renowned for their experimentation, here you can still get a few options beyond the classic marinara and margaritas. As tempted as I was by the dry cured Brindisa chorizo or the simple Napoletana, with the holy trinity of capers, olives and anchovies, we decided to divvy up the veggie special and a Gloucester Old Spot ham, ricotta and wild mushroom pie.
To start we quickly speared our way through a bowl of plump green Bella de Cerignola olives, followed by a burnished and bubbling dish of melanza parmigana. The slippery, sweet aubergines and milky, stretchy cheese were finished off perfectly with a touch of their homemade tomato sauce.
I love Neapolitan pizza; it isn't as crisp as its Roman brethren, but there’s something about the charcoal spotted, chewy dough, laden with milky pools of stretchy cheese and piquant tomato that I never seem to tire of. Topping here are on the sparse side (good) and well thought out, meaning the flash fired base has little time to get gloopy and soggy.
Our two pizzas proved the perfect balance. The Old Spot ham and mushroom was, almost, a pizza bianca (without tomato), with just the merest hint of the red fruit The whole thing was pepped up nicely by the house chilli oil which possessed a decent kick (as did the marvellous garlicky version, which proved perfect for mopping up with the leftover crusts).
The veggie special was another stunner; organic mozzarella and tomato topped with the bitter edged wild broccoli, smoky scamorza cheese and studded with little black Kalamata olives. As a committed carnivore, even I have to concede no meat could improve this pie.
As you can see the cornicione - or pizza crust for those who are are little less carb obsessed - was perfectly charred and smoky, while the high temperatures of the 'tuff' brick wood fired oven meant the base was still soft and springy, with a lovely chewy and complex sourdough flavour.
On possibly the first occasion since I've known her the Ewing missed the offer of pudding. No bad thing as a mixture of sun, wine and bread was beginning to finally catch up with me. Luckily she did hear when them asking if we wanted coffee, and two Monmouth espressos rounded things off nicely, giving us the extra buzz to finish our long journey homeward.
Good pizza remains one of my ultimate comfort foods, and Franco Manca offers simple, great value - most pies weigh in at the £6/7 mark, with wine starting at £13 a bottle - grub that proved well worth the wait.