There are rules to a dinner party. You don’t talk about politics or religion. It’s just not the done thing. Arguments do not make for a pleasant and sophisticated night, which is what most of the middle classes expect from such an occasion.
But when blogging, are there any rules? What is the protocol for new bloggers such as myself? Neither politics nor religion will touch the lips of the SW Food Blog, rest assured. But are there any restaurants which I cannot review? Are there any food establishments which are sacrosanct, save for a couple of notorious food critics, which grace the pages of the most well-established broad sheets?
Pizza is contentious. It’s contentious among the Italians. So when a pizza joint pops up claiming to be ‘the real deal’, that’s exactly what we foodie Brits expect: and nothing less. Once a pizza restaurant has been heralded as such, it’s difficult for people to eat there objectively, or at least being able to express their true thoughts without causing a commotion (see the comments which followed Mama Lan’s TimeOut review).
This was my thought train when the Welshman suggested I review the famed Franco Manca in Brixton Market. Its sourdough pizza bases are known throughout London to be the most moist and textured. I was frightened of reviewing it; I’ve had delicious pizza in Battersea when I lived there previously – Pizza Metro and Donna Magherita – and I admit, it was going to be a challenge for Franco Manca to match them.
In order to escape the wrath of my impatience (I hear the queues are long) the Welshman and the Scouser and I arrived at Brixton Market around 11.45am (it opens at 11.30am). Apart from one family who had just sat down, we were alone.
I am a creature of habit, and for me, anything which has anchovies has its own gravitational pull. I am helpless to the universal forces that be. I chose the Number Five; anchovies, capers, olives, oregano and mozzarella. If I was going to be clichéd, this is like my equivalent of an orgasm on sourdough.
My Scouse comrade chose the same thing, while the Welshman seized his chance to eat pork in my company, selecting the home-cured Gloucester Old Spot ham, mozzarella, buffalo ricotta, and wild mushrooms.
One has to tear the inch-worth of sourdough crust, which can barely be described as a crust, in order to get to the topping. Nibbling is a precursor to the main event. The sourdough, while never crunchy, has a toughened layer which sinks and then rips like a leathery skin when you bite into it. The centre is moist and doughy.
Now I’m into the middle. The sauce is light. This is good. I’ve had pizzas where there has been way too much reduction and way too much garlic, but this is not one of them. I must admit, I’m a bit perplexed by the inclusion of what looks to be Kalamata olives, but I’m certainly not put off. The quality of the mozzarella is superior to what I’ve had on top of a pizza before, and there are sufficient ingredients to avoid making the Number Five look like a barren circular wilderness of dough. The centre of the pizza is thin, which results in a wetted and top-heavy pointed corner of cheese that I have to scoop into my mouth quickly like a Neanderthal.
As the pizza disappears before my eyes my white plate is left with a carbonised smear – a good sign of stone-baked dough.
By the time we had finished, shortly after 12.30pm, the queue had started to snake out of the main entrance to the market. What you must understand about Franco Manca is that it is street dining. It is not a place to while away a Saturday afternoon, especially when the snake of people start staring at you, willing you to move on (we’ve all done it).
I will lend my voice of support to Franco Manca, I enjoyed it. However, it only just pips my favourite Battersea pizza haunt… by a smidge. I think it was the toppings that done it; definitely more flavoursome and better quality than I’ve experienced previously.
Anyway I’m struggling to finish this post in a witty or cheesy way, so all I am going to say is, bring on the Pizza Off: Franco Manco vs. Donna Margerita / Pizza Metro.
Only a review of the latter will truly settle this debate, unless you have your own thoughts?