My top 10 pizzas in London list is Naples-centric. For the moment London pizzerias would rather emulate and import the Neapolitans than develop their own style.
According to regulations set by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana a pizza must be soft and elastic as well as easy to manipulate and fold. The cheese, either mozzarella di bufala or fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella), should appear in evenly spaced patches.
Much as I revere Naples as the birthplace of the tricolored Margherita – red tomatoes, white mozzarella, green basil – and the enduring epizzenter of pizza I am open to regional variations. A charred, chewy, puffed-up cornicione is the cornerstone framing every great pizza, but who’s to say the disk can’t be crisp all the way to the centre point? And why not connect the dots of soft, sensuously milky cheeses from Caserta and Salerno, liberating them to float more densely over the tomato sauce to blanket the pizza with a thin but contiguous layer of molten mozzarella?
In time London’s top 10 pizzas may be more diverse. Londoners have proved impressionable for the compressionable crusts at fashionable Pizza East. The ultra-crisp, wafer-thin pizza platforms at Story Deli constitute a truly OILy – “Only In London” – pizza experience.
Slow food is a good thing, especially when it comes to pizza dough. The best are prepared with a small amount of fresh yeast, with fermentation lasting up to 24 hours. What I cannot tolerate is slow eating of pizza. It must be consumed hot.
Top 10 Pizzas in London
If you want to understand my desire for a molten mozzarella hurry to Saporitalia and see how the islets of fior di latte (cow’s milk mozza) melt into one another, keeping soft and fluid even minutes after the pizza has been pulled from the wood-fired oven. Lift the pizza up from one end and the cheese slowly slides to the other, loyal to its substratum of rich plum tomatoes but not stuck to it. If I speak of this Margherita less as an inanimate object than a living thing that’s because it is.
Valentina Ferro was head pizzaiolo at Pizza Metro Pizza in 2009, when that Battersea pizzeria topped the first version of this list. His thin crust, neither too crisp nor too soft, has just the right give. Its light break in the mouth is itself a special chew sensation. You don’t really need the cheese. Well, almost.
22 Portobello Road, London W11 1LJ (see map), 020 7243 3257
2. Sacro Cuore
A mural of Naples, its cartoon monochrome an amusing departure from the kitschy landscapes of pizzerias past, may reveal Sacro Cuore’s origins. But you discover its the Margherita pizza that points you in the direction of Naples with greater speed and accuracy than the most advanced GPS navigation. It might sound odd for you to hear a pizza described as “juicy” but many of the best ones are, notably this one. The tomato sauce and fior di latte float over a wonderfully light, elastic, charred crust. Bend a triangular slice and the loose toppings will collect in the middle and, upon first bite, shoot flavours throughout your mouth. So is the pizza at Sacro Cuore truly superior to that at Santa Maria (see immediately below), its older London sibling? I’d say the answer matters far less than the investigation leading to it, with as many visits as possible to both pizzerias.
45 Chamberlayne Rd, London NW10 3NB (see map), 020 8960 8558
The pizza apostles of Santa Maria may suffer a rare bout of ambivalence upon seeing their pizzeria near the top of this list: All pleasure taken from any validation of their good taste will be tempered by fears of longer queues. Some see in Santa Maria the image of Franco Manca, the groundbreaking London pizzeria that is number 7 on this list. That was perhaps truer in 2010 than it is now. Once you see and taste the Margherita’s silky, milky, oozy and, yes – yes! – salty surface of fior di latte you must trace its genetic roots
directly to Naples. The pizza, like co-owners Angelo Ambrosio and Pasquale Chionchio, is Neapolitan, sure enough, but the soft crust holds up to pressure, from the beautiful tomato sauce as well as your eager fingers, and the rim, for better or worse, is not too too puffy and spotty.
15 St Mary’s Road, London W5 5RA (see map), 020 8579 1462
4. Story Deli
Relocated for a third time, Story Deli remains a showcase for London’s most remarkable and pound-per-gram, most pricey pizza. It is also the most satisfying to slice into, hence the cutting board and pizza wheels that accompany every serving. The rotating blade cuts through the bubbly ends of the flatbread disk more cleanly than you expect. From a no-yeast dough baked for 30 seconds at 400°C (750°F) this organic pizza format has zero give, bend or compression. Its only response to pressure is crunch. Cubes of mozzarella di bufala and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano are scattered over the pesto-brushed Margherita AFTER it has baked. The raw mozza retains its pristinely fresh taste and soft texture.
Lee Hollingworth’s creation is neither filling nor, at £16, cheap. But the main reason Story Deli pizza is number 4 and not number 1 on this list is it’s more pizza salad than pizza and too abstract to satisfy cravings specific to the pizza experience.
123 Bethnal Green Road, London E2 (map)
Forget Tower Bridge and Trafalgar Square: The essential London attraction for Italian tourists was Soho’s was Spaccanapoli, probably because its pizza’s puffy, chewy, smoky-flavoured cornicione was so similar to what they can get at home – if home was in Spaccanapoli, the old quarter of Naples. The eviction of that great pizzeria by the Crossrail construction project had devastated pizza lovers shedding tears into the melted mozzarella at Santoré, Spaccanapoli’s sibling restaurant in Clerkenwell. The pizzas at Santoré were, if anything, improved by Spaccanapoli’s closing.
Owner Mimmo Savarese tapped Nicola, his best Spaccanapoli pizzaiolo, to shape the Santoré dough and work in its ovens in the manner of the great Naples pizzeria Trianon da Ciro. Though the eminently foldable Margherita is undeniably Nicola’s best pizza, the Siciliana, with cherry tomatoes and aubergines, is sensational: The slices are more pleasurably pliable and less soggy without the tomato sauce, while the cherry tomatoes explode with flavour, as cherry tomatoes, when in peak season, are wont to do.
59-61 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, EC1 – 020 7812 1488
The Gambero Rosso guide to the pizzerias of Italy included seven foreign addresses: two in Paris, two in New York and three in Battersea. A single area of south London merited more pages than all of Venice or Trieste. Sadly, one of those eateries, A Fenestella, has closed, leaving locals to choose between two authentic Neapolitans: the admirable if inconsistent Donna Margherita and the outstanding Pizza Metro. Every millimetre of Pizza Metro’s wall space is covered with Naples-themed movie posters, murals and kitsch when all you really want to see is a pizzaiolo pull his puffy-rimmed, lightly charred, gently crisp, metre-long masterpizzas from the wood oven. The trouble with long pizzas, however, is they’re difficult to rotate on the oven. As a result one end might be dark and charred; the other, pale and underbaked. The tomato-painted ovals carry the requisite Neapolitan patchwork of fior di latte, only here the heat-blasted mozza has melted into glistening pools. The newer Pizza Metro in Notting hill uses gas to heat its oven, rather than wood, and quality suffers.
Pizza Metro Battersea, 64 Battersea Rise, Battersea, SW11 – 020 7228 3812
Pizza Metro Notting Hill, 147-149 Notting Hill Gate, 020 7727 8827
7. Franco Manca
Upon arriving for the first time at the original Franco Manca I asked a waitress to pinch me. She said I would have to queue like everyone else. Happily the organic artisan pizzeria beneath the Brixton Market arcades and its then sub-£5 (now £5.80) Margherita were no dream. I soon discovered if there was any reality pinching to be done it should be of the fluffy, chewy, char-spotted cornicione that frames its ethereal pizzas. Conscientious sourcing is central to the laudable story line created by creator Giuseppe Mascoli, but he overreached in choosing a mozzarella blend from a domestic producer in Somerset. This British cheese solidifies in fast-drying patches over the Margherita, marring the interplay with the sweet Ligurian tomatoes and the thin, limp sourdough platform. Another worry is that the Franco Manco formula of very very slow fermentation and very very fast cooking requires great consistency in all conditions of preparation. But even when not at their very very best the pizzas things of beauty. We have Mascoli to thank for lifting the status of pizza in London from convenience food to art form.
Franco Manca Brixton, Unit 4, Market Row, Brixton, S9 – 020 7738 3021
Franco Manca Chiswick, 144 Chiswick High Street, Chiswick, W4 – 020 8747 4822
Franco Manco Stratford, Westfield Stratford, E20 – 020 8522 6669
Franco Manca Northcote, 16 Northcote Rd, SW11 – 020 7924 3110
The authentic Neapolitan pizzas at Sartori are baked in wood-fired brick oven custom built by the great Neapolitan craftsmen of Strazzula Michele, the Stradivarius of pizza ovens. Unfortunately, that oven is located in the lower level of the restaurant and so most diners miss the action as Paolo, a pizzaiolo familiar to Londoners through his work at Santore and Spaccanapoli, slides out one steaming pie after another. Regardless, how great to have Paulo, his Strazzula Michele and his pizza in Leicester Square.
15-18 Great Newport Street, WC2, 020 7836 6308
9. Pizza East
Rather than merely emulate the Neapolitans Pizza East looked west, to Los Angeles, for some crisp thinking. The pizza is crisp to the core, unlike its soft-centered counterparts in Naples, yet extremely light, airy and delicately chewy. All vidence suggests that the charred, blistered and bubbly cornicione was inspired by the sourdough crust at Pizzeria Mozza in LA. It compresses exquisitely to the chew. The English difference entails dusting the dough with fine Maldon sea salt. The mozzarella is good example of imported Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP – the best that GBP can buy. Pizza East drains the cheese, as it must, only not excessively so. The scattered patches of cheese do melt and ooze some as the pizza bakes, but the transformation from solid state towards a liquid one does not turn the whole disk into one milky mess. My growing disenchantment as Pizza East expands has nothing whatsoever to do with style of the pizza, or the noise and discomforts of so buzzy a restaurant, and everything to do with pizza preparation. Assembly is rushed. Cornicione creep, the infringement of the pizza’s rim towards its centre, has progressed to the point where a quarter of the pizza surface can be toppingless.
Pizza East Shoreditch, 56 Shoreditch High St, Shoreditch, E1 – 020 7729 1888
Pizza East Portobello, 310 Portobello Road, W10 – 020 8969 4500
Pizza East Kentish Town, 79 Highgate Road, NW5 – 020 3310 2000
While Rossopomodoro’s rapid growth is surely hurting independent pizzerias it’s hard to knock the Naples-based chain for Starbucksizing the business when its management is so fussy about authenticity. The dough is said to be prepared with water imported from Naples – a gimmick, yes, but a harmless one when each pizza possesses the puffy cornicione and melt-in-your mouth sensation of a one-off Neapolitan classic. I worry mostly about rushed preparation, inconsistency from location to location and, as a result of either, the occasional difficulty digesting a pizza. Still, when a meticulous Neapolitan pizzaiolo is lifting each pizza in the oven for a last-second blast of crisping Rossopomodoro is capable of true greatness.
Rossopomodoro Covent Garden, 50-52 Monmouth Street, WC2 – 020 7240 9095
Rossopomodoro Chelsea, 214 Fulham Road, SW10 –020 7352 7677
Rossopomodoro Notting Hill, 184A Kensington Park Road , W11– 020 7229 9007
Rossopomodoro Camden, 10 Jamestown Road, Nw1 - 020 7424 9900
Rossopomodoro Hoxton, 1 Rufus Street, N1