Thursday, 17 March 2011

London - Franco Manca

Unit 4, Market Row
London SW9 8LD

Pizzas: £4.50-6.95
Organic lemonade (250ml): £1.90

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

It was a little intimidating when my Brooklynite friend, exhausted from hunger, chose Franco Manca as our lunch-stop. New York has, arguably, the best pizzas in the world (if you like thin crusts and ignore all of Italy), whereas Britain's sole contribution has been the haggis topping found in Scotland's more nationalistic takeaways.  I should not have worried, however; Franco Manca, a high-end pizzeria in Brixton Market, is staking out Britain's pizza legacy with its sourdough bases, locally sourced ingredients, and toppings that aim higher than the Saturday-night margharita or Hawaiian.

Franco Manca is always busy, even on a Friday afternoon, and chances are that you will be doubled-up with another party on a table. The service is also a bit on the lethargic side (it took a while for us to get our bill), but the waitresses are friendly and not intrusive.

We ordered a pizza each. Mine - the mozzarella and wild broccoli with Wootton organic pecorino cheese (from Somerset) - was a white pizza strewn with wilted broccoli leaves and a generous amount of both mozzarella and pecorino.  The broccoli tasted a little of olive oil, but retained some of its natural flavour, and complemented the thick layer of milky mozzarella.  The pecorino, globbed onto the pizza, was sharp and salty, contrasting with both the mozzarella and the broccoli.  

Brooklynite's pizza - home-cured Gloucester Old Spot ham, mozzarella, buffalo ricotta and wild mushrooms - had a sauce base.  The sauce was nothing special, but tasted strongly of tomato, which is always a good sign.  Although I thought that the ham would be the most interesting ingredient, it was torn into too-small and paper-thin slivers, rendering it nearly invisible against the strong flavours of tomato and mushroom; even the mozzarella had a tendency to overpower it.  The mushrooms (possibly sautéed beforehand) were the stand-out ingredient, as their earthy flavour cut through the tomato and cheeses.

Franco Manca's signature sourdough bases are chewy, dense and sour, and are most certainly not the reheated cardboard of Domino's or the over-fluffed deep-pan of Pizza Hut.  Although the tomato sauce somewhat smothers the base's own distinct flavour, my sauce-less pizza and mild mozzarella meant that it could shine through.  Thin in the middle and just thicker on the outside, these bases are hand-made and a satisfyingly large size, although mine had a couple of burned bits that were bitter rather than sour.

To drink, I had the organic lemonade.  It had the same colour as apple squash, and tasted of lemons, apples and sugar, although I don't think there was any apple juice in it.  It was delightful, and although a little expensive I would have it again.

If you have a spare hour or two to queue up on a Saturday afternoon, or can take time off during the week for a slightly less hectic experience, Franco Manca is well worth the visit.  Its pizzas are better than anything else similarly (and even higher) priced, and its local and organic ingredients mean that you can assuage your cheese-stuffed guilt with every bite.

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