Tag Archives: pizza

On Location: Franco Manca (Brixton, London)

You might have seen my recent post on Brixton Cornercopia in Brixton Village.

Well, today it’s a hop, skip and a jump across the road to the neighbouring Brixton Market, which contains what is, in my humble view, one of the jewels in the crown of the rapidly changing South London foodie scene. It’s Franco Manca, which most people around this part of town know as the “sourdough pizza place”.

The basics: it’s tucked away in a corner of the market (so seek it out and don’t give up) and is tiny. There is often a queue – which should be taken as a good sign – so don’t be surprised to find yourself up close and personal with other customers at a teeny tiny table.

But we’re here for the great pizza, so everyone seems to be happy to rub along together…and you never know, you might make new friends! At weekends, any idea of just popping in will be greeted with a mighty (if quick-moving) queue, but on a weekday you normally stand a pretty good chance of grabbing a table. Aim for one indoors and enjoy the heat of the pizza oven as the nights get cold and dark. It’s all a bit chaotic, but it just works, as whenever I’ve been, then staff have been super-friendly.

So the star: the pizza. The bases are what makes the place famous, made from sourdough that has been slow-raised for about 20 hours. So just think about this – someone was planning to make my pizza almost a whole day before I even knew that I would be eating it. The resulting base is very tasty, softer than the usual crisp bases that I crave but with a nice chewiness and a puffy edge. The choice of pizzas is kept mercifully short and sweet – there are six standard pizzas, which change with the season, and then two or three specials. And not a bit of pineapple in sight. So yes, you can choose from nine pizzas max. But frankly, that is not an issue – there is a good mixture of veggie, meaty and cheesy, so you won’t be feeling restricted.

The place is all in all a little mad, so just relax and go with the flow. I was famished and luckily my order appeared pretty swiftly (which, in my experience, is usually the case). A piping hot sourdough pizza appeared, flecked with black spots on the puffy crust, and topped with all manner of goodies. On this occasion, I opted for a pizza bianca with buffalo mozzarella, gorgonzola, spinach and caramelised onions, but plumped for a twist with a dash of tomato sauce on the base (so…eh…just a normal pizza really…). It was just heaven. The cheeses were creamy, the sauce was tangy, the onions sweet and juicy, and that base…tasty and just that little bit chewy. I scoffed it in the blink of an eye, but I reckon I could easily have polished off a second. It was that good.

What did strike me about Franco Manca is that this is very much an established joint. People know it and love it. While, no doubt, it really is an exciting time to go down to Brixton and see what is happening, clearly it’s also changing fast – you are basically guaranteed to find something new down there every week – but I do think it will be interesting to see what happens as time goes by. Some places will do well, some might look to move out to other premises, others will vanish as quickly as they came.  But I think one thing is for sure – Franco Manca has been down in Brixton as long as I can remember, and it’s done well for a reason – it’s excellent. And you know what? I reckon it will still be there for a very, very long time.

So…would I go back? Do you really have to ask? If I move down here, we could be having weekly clandestine liaisons. I’d be sneaking in to get take-away too. And all that would be a very good thing indeed.

Franco Manca, Unit 4, Market Row, Brixton Market, London SW9 8LD. Tel: 0207 783 3021. Tube: Brixton.

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On Location: Oost Pizzeria (Oost, Amsterdam)

This is the last in the recent wave of Dutch-themed post. On my recent trip to the Netherlands, I arrived back late in Amsterdam from a couple of days in the Dutch outback (subsisting mainly on beer and gouda cheese), and thoughts inevitably turned to a decent pizza. We went with our host to a pizzeria in the Oost district of Amsterdam which, in a clear moment of inspiration on the part of the owner, was called Oost.

I am always struck by just how different a neighbourhood restaurants is in other cities as compared to London. Even in good old N16, places are often rammed, loud and you need to book. Other places just don’t seem to be as busy, and I love being able to decide to go somewhere, entering, choosing a table and sitting down. Sounds strange, but living in a city where you can end up fighting strangers for table space, this is a rare treat. Oost is just such a relaxed “easy” place. The menu is pretty straightforward – simple antipasti, half a dozen pasta dishes, a dozen pizzas, and they just seem to get on with what they are trying to do very well.

We went for a selection of crostini (mozzarella/tomato, mushrooms with truffle oil, and goat’s cheese and fig jam) which really hit the spot. I was going to take the mushroom/truffle version, but then decided in the interests of trying new things, the goat’s cheese with fig was the way to go, and frankly I am glad I did. I first had fig jam a few weeks ago on a visit to Brussels fell in love with it, and I am happy to report that I am still in a very meaningful relationship with the candied fruits of ficus carica. This had a light sweetness and freshness that you often do not get when goat’s cheese is coupled with honey. In short, yum.

For the main, it was, of course, a pizza. I went for one with artichoke, goat’s cheese and rocket. I realise that this is actually a phenomenal amount of goat’s cheese in one meal and it was surely a sign that I was not really thinking about what I was doing after spending hours stuck in motorway traffic coming back into Amsterdam, but I happen to love goat’s cheese, so not really an issue. Anyway, the pizza was fab – nice and crispy and with a generous amount of toppings, but not overloaded It was also surprisingly light – I typically ask for less mozzarella on pizzas as they can often be very greasy, but this one was not. All in all, a nice dish. It doesn’t (quite) beat my favourite in London, but as they are clearly not competing, I guess I never have to choose between them.

For dessert, I plumped for the affogato (espresso over vanilla ice-cream). This was nice, but I have had better (yup, we’re back to LondonEats’ favourite pizzeria in Clerkenwell again). My own preference is for very cold ice-cream, so that when the espresso goes over, the ice-cream stays very firm. It is also important that the ice-cream is not too sweet, so that the flavour of the coffee shines alongside the vanilla, rather than just supporting it. The ice-cream was still good (if just a touch softer than I like it), but I appreciated the hazelnut macaroon biscuit with it, which made for a contrasting texture with the ice-cream and coffee.

Would I go again? Definitely. The food was very nice, and if the only weak point was that the dessert was good rather than stellar, I can live with this. The decor is fresh and inviting, the service friendly and, when summer comes, one very impressive looking south-facing terrace. Bring on the sunshine, and I may well be back.

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