Monday, 26 November 2012

Franco Manca: doughn't knock it

Best pizzas? No. Worst wine? Hell yes.

Isn't hype a wonderful thing? Well, it depends what side of the line you're on. Franco Manca is on the right side, so much so the line is a dot. It serves the "best pizza in Britain" according to an over-enthusiastic Sunday paper, and the original branch manages to attract 50-people long queues on a blustery Thursday, despite being located in Brixton Market - which has all the ambience of an Ikea warehouse.

Franco Manca though, manages to feel like an Italian pizzeria on a cobble street in Naples and, despite the market having roof, even attempts an outside cafe-style row of seating. It's cramped and lively, and actually pleasantly rustic to sit so close to other diners – except for when one needs the loo and a whole row of people have to go toe to toe in the aisles so they can escape.

Luckily that only happened once, because no one was drinking. The house organic white was hands-down, or on my heart, or to my throat, the worst wine I have ever tasted. I have seen no evidence that organic wine is any better than the normal stuff, and on this evidence it's considerably worse. It tasted like drinking apple juice straight after brushing your teeth. The only thing that stopped me spitting it back out was my proximity to the impressionable child to my left.

Another flaw in making people sit so close together is that the pizzas are massive, and you sit there knocking elbows, felling oil bottles and spilling glasses (not an issue if you're drinking the white). Cruelly they don't slice the pizzas, so you spend the first minute, elbows out, doing chicken impressions opposite each other.

The first thing you notice once you start cutting, other than that your neighbour has very bony elbows, is that this is a very unusual pizza. It's soft and doughy like a naan bread. In fact it looks like one too. The sourdough has bubbled and blackened but not crispened, so you get the slight burnt bitterness of an Indian bread. Now, most people would say a non-crispy base on a pizza is a sign it's undercooked. But traditional pizza (from Naples) is meant to be soft and chewy. Believe me it works wonderfully - you can roll slices up into glorious wholesome bites, or tear bits off for others to try, or forcibly stuff the whole thing into your mouth and chew it with a disgustingly proud grin on your face. It's utterly brilliant, but I have to say you miss the variation in texture you get on a crispy Roman style base.

Sadly, the gluttony of the dough doesn't quite stretch to the toppings, and while they are all specially sourced and truly beautiful, there's just not enough of them. With such a thick dough there needs to be topping to match, piles of tomatoes and cheese. The ricotta on my old spot ham pizza was spread so thin it looked like a watery excess from the mozzarella. My friend's came without tomatoes at all (on purpose) but as a result was pretty hard going over about 12 inches. Still, she managed it somehow, as I did mine, in about 5 minutes.

And so, with the pizzas demolished, we were left with the wine. Due to its bitterness we'd eaten our pizzas before we'd even finished the first glass, and had to spend 10 torturous minutes downing the rest of the bottle while intermittently grimacing then smiling sheepishly at the queue of 50 hungry would-be diners. Luckily, hype and incredible prices mean they'll wait. My advice would be take into account the hype, and get there before 6.30.

So is Franco Manca worth the plaudits slapped on it? Not really. Is it worth the £7 you'll pay for a pizza. Hell yes.

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon   Square Meal