I visited this basement pizza restaurant on Berwick Street looking for a slightly cheaper eat that was still more exciting than your regular Pret sandwich. I could have taken away but fancied more of a break from the office so, despite some curious looks from the waiter, engaged my practised air of confident dining alone and settled myself downstairs. The basement was done out in a scrubbed wood fashion, the tables spotlighted from hanging lamps above. Water was delivered to the table in a wine bottle. I secretly tried to imagine that like Jesus I could change the water into wine as it poured; unfortunately it didn’t work. Clearly I am not the son of God – bit of a relief really as I imagine it would be somewhat of a responsibility.
As I waited I could watch the pizzaiolo throwing and kneading behind a counter in the corner that acted as the kitchen; the whole area was dominated by an enormous and spectacular tiled pizza oven. This oven is called a ‘Tufae’ and, according to the restaurant, was custom built on site by specialised artisans from Naples to ensure the softness of the pizza crust. The scorching heat (the oven is kept at 500 degrees centigrade) meant that my pizza was cooked in no time. It also lived up to its promise of locking in the flour’s natural moisture so my sourdough pizza edges were soft and chewy rather than the crunchy crust I so often throw away.
There are six pizzas on the Franco Manca menu numbered 1-6 in ascending order of price. The most expensive doesn’t make it over the £7 mark which, considering it costs you £8.45 to order a margarita in certain London Pizza Expresses, I feel is stonkingly good value. I had number 4. It came with Gloucester Old Spot ham (home-cured, naturally), Mozzarella, buffalo ricotta and wild mushrooms. Top tip: if you like a classic tomato base on your pizza make sure you agree to the waiter’s suggestion of extra tomatoes as the covering here was sparse. Nonetheless the pizza was delicious and I loved the base almost as much as the toppings! (This is basically unheard of….no one orders a pizza for the base right? Right??) Having grown up leaving the edges of the pizza lonely and discarded at the periphery of my plate, I am now a total soft crust convert! The chalky sharpness of the ricotta contrasted beautifully with the smoky ham and stringy Mozzarella….and the mushrooms were nice too. Basically this was just a genuinely tasty pizza; good size, awesome value and well-sourced ingredients. All I can say is next time you fancy a pizza in London don’t fall prey to the big national chains, pick up a Franco Manca instead. I know that’s what I’ll be doing!
The Lunching Intern ate:
1 No. 4 Pizza – £6.85
Total Cost – £6.85
Franco Manca, 51 Berwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 8SJ