Franco Manca pizza: review by Hannah Bellis
….Italia! magazine’s editor reviews Franco Manca’s sourdough pizzas and predicts they will soon be everywhere…
Franco is missing. That is what ‘Franco Manca’ actually means. But in fact, I see this name more and more across the streets of London. I have eaten in the Franco Manca in Balham – the latest operation from this currently six shop strong sourdough pizza chain. When I was on Goodge Street a few weeks ago, I saw a new premises on the way to opening. The pizzas are coming. And if they can maintain their quality and originality you will be delighted.
Today I am visiting the site in Brixton Market where the empire begins. From 1985, this site held the pizzeria Franco’s, owned by Franco Pensa. The picture above shows the plot in the time of Franco’s. It was an institution, loved by the locals in the days when Brixton Market was far less trendy than it is now. This photograph, as well as a head shot of Franco, still hangs in the stall today. Giuseppe Mascoli, who took on the stall in 2008 and started the Franco Manco story is not a relative – just a fan. But this is all behind the scenes. It’s the sourdough pizzas you see out front that are the real stars of this show.
There are less than ten pizzas on the full-time menu, with a few guest additions at anytime. Rather than shipping in ingredients from his homeland, Giuseppe has instead found the best organic ingredients that the UK has to offer, including dry cured ham or sausage made with Gloucestershire Old Spot pork, and mozzarella – made in Somerset, but with a method passed on from an artisan from Molise flown in especially for the purpose.
The dough is made using a sourdough starter – it is sticky and gooey and hard to handle. The pizza men with the big paddles really need to know their art here to handle the dough well,but it needs just 45 seconds in the wood-fired pizza oven to cook. It emerges steaming with a slightly chewy crust that is very hard to resist when it is placed before you, even if you have already slightly filled up on one of the guest starters as I did.
This is very different from Neapolitan pizza. It is not crispy – the dough is soft and tasty with a toasted but chewy crust. The English love affair with soughdough bread is well established, but this is the first time i have had it in a pizza dough – but it certainly won’t be the last. Steaming from the oven and rich in black olives and oily anchovies, gilded with melted mozzarella, it is an irresistible feast, at around £7 per pizza. I would argue that with its emphasis on freshness, local ingredients and simplicity, this is closer to the Italian ethos than many other pizzerias. With the wood oven built in the stall by one of the great Neapolitan artisans, Mastro Cicco, it is certainly cooked in the authentic Neapolitan way.
Limoncello and lemonade sold are also made on the premises, and the only thing that comes from Italy is one or two of the wines – both organic – and certainly the coffee, though it is from Monmouth is served only as espresso, just as the Italians would have it.
Visit www.francomanca.com to find your closest restaurant