Chiswick High Street
Thursday 24th April 2014
I’m generally not a fan of chains: what with their lack of charm, mediocre food and sterilized atmospheres. They are often filled with families of screaming children and tend to remove the much-needed business from local restaurants in need of loyal support. My Dad once said: “If you don’t go and support them; you’ll turn around and they’ll be no more.” (Here, here!)
If you look at the Italian pizza chains throughout the UK – I shan’t name them but we’ve all been there and know who they are – they feel clinical and repetitive and dull. Well, to me at least!
But then when I first heard of Franco Manca I went on impulse, having not researched that it too has more than one outlet and…(insert drum roll here) was chuffed that this one time I was proved wrong. “Shock, shock, horror, horror?” Well, actually: no. Because you can find that if a restaurant gets it right: with honest charm and simplicity, then people will queue out of the door. And surely any restaurateur will attempt to supply the demand.
Franco Manca does have people queuing out the door: in Chiswick at least; and I’m told that the six other venues, all in London, are equally successful.
We waited just over five minutes to be seated, and having seen what was been plated on the restaurants open pass, we weren’t about to turn back now.
What is that? “I’ll have what he’s having”. It was the starter set down in front of the young squire next to me (the clientele all seem fairly trendy here: the-in-the-know, if you will). It looked great. Unashamed simplicity: great ingredients… treated well. It hardly disappointed. A ball of buffalo mozzarella, accompanied by similarly simplistic Parma ham, rocket and some crispy flatbread triangles.
Not much cooking, admittedly: not Michelin star…but that’s good – I’m in a pizza shop!!! I want great Italian food. Fresh, quality tomatoes and cheese; The Treasures of Turin; The Riches of Rome; the… Money…of…Milan? OK, that last one didn’t really work – but you get the drift. It’s about quality. Why mess around with quality? It was a cracking start to what was about to become a fantastic Neapolitan Nosh-up.
The waitress behind me dropped a pizza, straight on the floor. Did it matter? No. Not great… a waste of a good pizza. But the charm and urbanity of the waiting staff took me straight back to my holidays. It happened to a waiter on my last trip to Southern Italy; and like he handled it on that particular day, this waitress simply looked round, embarrassed, picked it up – in the bin – and got on with it. It is incredible what some people can get away with by using just a little natural charisma and a sheepish smile!
I ordered the ‘No Logo’ beer – brewed exclusively for FM. It adds something I think: a unique not-following-the-crowd ideal. And the pizzas take on a similar tone.
The waitress got my order wrong. Did it matter? No. Minus one star? No. Who cares: it was handled with ease, apology and speed. Well, with a 500°C beechwood-burning oven: do the Hokey Cokey and turn around and that’s what burnt pizza looks like!
I quickly had my rightful one (not scorched!) and it was without a doubt worth the wait. The best pizza I’ve had this side of the Alps; and the first time I’ve had more toppings than butter on my sourdough. It wanted for nothing whatsoever. Gloucester Old Spot ham (home cured), Mozzarella, Buffalo ricotta and wild mushrooms; that’s all it needed. And it was only £6.85. What a result. Cracking, British when possible, ingredients on top of a pillow-case of sour dough.
And what a dough!! Giuseppe Mascoli, founder of FM says he acquired it from an Ischian baker. It’s not just water and flour…the thing is living; and it’s old. Take a group of seven or eight pensioners down there – add their ages together – and you’re still not close! (Over 500 years apparently). You can taste the heritage, the tradition… the gulf. This is special.
It was outstanding. You must go here – and now. Queue… get your ‘No Logo’ and sample what has to be one of the best pizzas you’ll eat in London.
What are you waiting for? If you like your pizza and you like laid-back, friendly and yet professional service – then look no further than this fantastic joint. It’s cheap. And they’ve got the right idea: find the best ingredients and do to them what the Italians do best… they let them be.
So no…I don’t like chains. But this has held on to what many expanded restaurants misplace…and that, my friends… is individuality. My only hope is that they don’t fall into that same old trap – because what a shame that would be!
Pizza – £7 tops. Beer – £3.30. Bottle of Wine – £13.95. Bargains: the lot of ‘em.