You know that feeling when you are completely overcome by a pizza craving? When you can virtually taste the tomatoey, chilli sprinkled, peperoni enhanced cheese, lasciviously entwining with a dough that’s both crispy, crunchy and breadily soft in all the right places? When it’s a case of pizza or perish and nothing else will do? Yep, it was one of those evenings.
Where else to go, we thought, but Franco Manca, the pizzeria with the awesome reputation for amazing sourdough pizzas. We’d never been, but when even the Observer proclaims that it’s where ‘the best pizza in Britain’ is served and Tatler writes ‘ If you only eat one pizza this year, make sure it’s Franco Manca’, you kind of assume you’re on to a good thing. There are several outlets in London, but as we happened to be in the Clapham/Battersea neck of the woods, the one on buzzy Northcote Road seemed to be calling our names.
It’s heaving with local Clapham twenty somethings in groups and twosomes, and very noisy. Still, a small table right at the back of the long, thin premises is found for us, in what my New York friend would call ‘Siberia’, i.e. the least attractive, most remote part of a restaurant, in this case, where all the pizza boxes are piled up.
The set up of the restaurant is basic and simple, with exposed brick walls, visible trunking, wooden or metal covered tables and large metal tins containing cutlery and paper napkins. But that’s perfectly ok in a pizzeria. That’s sort of how they are meant to be. Two pizza bakers are toiling away in infernal heat by the pizza ovens. Watching them makes us thirsty.
The Lovely Husband orders a beer. The only type on offer is an unbranded ‘no name’ lager, so you don’t quite know what you’re getting but that’s fine, and he’s content with the way it tastes. I’m keen on a chilled glass of white wine. It’s organic but as rough as a badger’s bum and served in a water glass. Hmmm, that’s taking the studenty vibe almost a bit too far for me but hey ho, I’m adaptable and I wasn’t expecting cut glass crystal.
We ponder the menu which offers six different pizzas, all a bit plain, really, for my taste, with little variety, and two different side salad options, but there is a specials board on the wall around the corner from where we’re sitting, right behind an occupied table. The only way to peruse it without standing in the narrow thoroughfare and staring at the diners in front of it, is by taking a photo of it. On the board is a list of fancy toppings like Smoked Buffalo Mozzarella and Wild Boar Salami or Truffle Oil or Gloucester Old Spot Sausage and so on. Crikey, I just want an American Hot, thank you very much. I’ve come to eat a pizza, chaps, not to sample a protected species of tomato grown in lava ash. Come on now, let’s stay real, shall we? Neither the Lovely Husband nor I are particularly taken with the choices on offer. Nothing really rings our bell here, but we’re determined to see it through. If I didn’t have a blog to write, I’d have left at the first taste of the rough wine.
Then, horror upon horrors, the one remaining table beside us is taken up by a yuppie Nappy Valley family, a pretty blonde woman in oatmeal shorts and matching espadrilles, her two young sons of about seven and nine, and her husband. She’s softly spoken and the boys look sweet but the husband is a nerdy looking character who is clearly in very good voice, which he immediately puts to use, boomingly holding forth to his family on this and that, emphasizing his words with index finger air stabs. He’s the sort that makes loud statements to his children and then looks around him to see whether he’s garnered an admiring audience with his inane parental comments. He foghorns out explanations about the stockmarket and encourages his boys to do well at school, so that one day, when they’ve grown up, they can enter it. Those poor little boys! And that long suffering wife! They must be cringing with embarrassment. Or perhaps they’re plotting something more sinister. I certainly am. I try to shout louder and believe me, I have a good strong German bossy voice, but all conversation is drowned out by our neighbour. Instead, the Lovely Husband and I communicate entirely by eye rolling.
Between us we order a Tomato, Cured Organic Chorizo and Mozzarella Pizza from the menu with extra Chilli, and a Veg Special from the board of Franco & Lloyd Mozzarella, Caramelised Red Onion, Colston Basselt Stilton, Fresh Baby Spinach on a Tomato Base, and a side salad. I’m not very enthusiastic about these choices but if the pizza is as heavenly as it’s reputed to be, I’m sure we’ll be wowed.
When the food arrives, it looks okay, although the salad is tiny. In actual fact, it consists of a small bowl of shredded lettuce leaves with perhaps two quartered cherry tomatoes at most, a couple of slices of cucumber and a spoonful of alfalfa sprouts to give it credibility. Poor show as salads go. The pizzas are a big disappointment. The veg one tastes nicer than the other because at least the onions give it a little bit of crunch and there are some fresh spinach leaves on top, but mostly both are just tasteless fatty, cheesy puddles on a very soggy, possibly even undercooked, base. Meh! This is a million miles away from delicious and, as far as I’m concerned, they do better pizzas at any common or garden Pizza Express!
I’m truly done with the place by the time we’re asked whether we want dessert. In any case there are only two puds on offer, neither of which I fancy.
We pay £27.20 for those two disastrous pizzas, the salad, a beer and a glass of wine. Service, which isn’t included, is rushed and basic. Nerve grating by Mr. Foghorn comes as a free extra. True, the bill is cheaper than at most High Street pizzerias but that doesn’t make it good value for money.
While I childishly hum a little refrain rhyming with Franco Manca, we drive home via M&S to pick up two slices of New York Vanilla Cheesecake to comfort eat at home.
Do yourself a favour, if you only eat one pizza a year, make sure it’s not at Franco Manca.
What I wore
White JBrand skinny jeans, longsleeved Mc Loughlin t-shirt, sky blue French Sole ballerinas
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