Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Pizza Tuesday at Franco Manca

Pizza is not my favourite food.  I'll eat it when there's nothing else, or when the alternative is some high street junk, but I generally find it stodgy and indigestible and cannot ignore the fact that the gross profit on your average pizza is pretty, well, gross.

In the bloggosphere there has been much twittering about the merits of the Franco Manca pizzeria in Brixton Market and the fact they make authentic Neapolitan pizzas with a sourdough crust.  I have walked past many times but been put off in spite of the eulogies by the fact it's in a drafty old shopping arcade.  But when Franco Manca opened a second (indoor) branch in Chiswick  I thought  I'd give them a try on a day I had an empty fridge and a rumbly tummy.
It was a very quiet midweek lunch and the muzak had been cranked up to compensate.  My pizza was  both chewy and soggy at the same time.  There was some excellent chorizo on top (from Brindisa) but otherwise I wasn't impressed.  I mentioned my disappointment on Twitter which immediately unleashed a torrent of indignant tweets from FM's myriad fans.  I thought I must be missing the point and wanted to believe the hype so when the food writer Daniel Young organised one of his regular Pizza Tuesday events at Franco Manca Chiswick I had to give it another try.
Coming here in the evening the place was bustling.  After eating some agreeable antipasti including aromatic Italian sausage (with fennel?) and braised scarole with capers (both of which a welcome antidote to the very rustic red wine) we watched the fast moving pizzaioli in action and were in sheer wonderment at the speed at which the pizzas were cooked (in seconds rather than minutes though the training the pizzaioli receive lasts six months).

A feature of the FM pizza is the thin sourdough base (slow rising to develop flavour) which is baked in 40 seconds in the extremely hot brick oven, built on site.  The owner Giuseppe Mascoli explained that the starter for the dough came from eighteenth century Ischia and was fed every day with flour and water.  He proceeded to show us how to roll up a slice of pizza before devouring it; we all had a go at this with varying success.  It was a reminder though that pizza in Italy, or in Naples at least, is very much street food, and is not really to be eaten with a knife and fork.

The oven heats to 500˙C which explains perhaps why my original pizza on an early lunch was a bit floppy if cooked in an oven that hadn't quite reached the correct temperature. Another feature of the oven other than this extreme temperature is its low roof which helps maintain a humid atmosphere thereby helping prevent scorching.  It's important that the base is well covered by the topping otherwise the fierce bottom heat of the oven coupled with the wild yeast activity in the sourdough base would create huge blisters: this is why the edge of the pizzas here are so puffy (handy too if the sauce is very runny).
There is a laudable list of ingredients and suppliers mentioned on the menu and so one imagines the margins here are not as gross as in most pizzerias.  It's a shame though that the one red wine available is not chosen with the same care even if it does have the buzzword description, 'organic' (pretty meaningless in wine from a taste point of view).
We tried four different pizzas, one of which was an off piste quattro formaggi which was very popular.  As the four cheeses are from Neal's Yard I suspect that if listed permanently it will have to cost considerably more than the current modest price range of £4.50 to £6.80.
my thanks to Daniel Young for allowing me to use the 2nd and 3rd video on this post.  The pizza tuesday evenings cost £25

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