Monday, 29 December 2014

Italy's Got Talent...

L was in London with her betrothed, S.  Pizza was on the cards.
"I have  a few places to show you."  I intimated as we discussed our plans on the phone.  "I think Fratelli la Bufala might be a winner."
"No."  Her response took me back.  Had she changed her mind?  Was my mission off?  I swallowed awkwardly.  "We're going to go to where S's friend works."
It turns out that the said Italian works at Santore in Exmouth Market.  It was on my list but, to be honest, I didn't have high expectations.  Until I saw videos of the very same Italian performing what I can only describe as pizza-base throwing acrobatics back in 2008 on You Tube - then heard that he had got through the first round of auditions for Britain's Got Talent.  It was then that I realised I had competition.
The restaurant was at the end of the market, the outside seating enclosed under a British-weather-proof marquee with outdoor heaters.  We were seated between two, and, after what felt like a session under a sun bed, I had to move.  But, once settled and with a glass of Prosecco in hand, I turned to the menu.  I was assured that the oven was wood fired (tick) and, as we were friends of the chef, we were able to secure fresh buffalo mozzarella on our pizzas too (double tick).  I decided to go with the Quattro Stagioni (that's mushroom, artichoke, ham and pepperoni if you were wondering).  L, of course, went for a Margherita, and caused a bit of confusion when she insisted that she wanted the cheese melting rather than adding raw once the pizza was cooked.  But, after a lot of gesturing and animated chatter in Italian, her request was agreed.

I admit, the pizza was pretty good - the cheese was delicious and the base was pretty much spot on.  I was mildly disappointed not to be offered sprinkles, but then I'm not sure the food needed the extra flavour. L was also impressed - the melted cheese had made her base a bit soggy, but apparently, in her eyes, this is a good thing.  This information may well push up the ratings of a lot of the other pizzas I have tried but, after a couple of Stregas (yet another tick!) L and I argued over Santore's score.  I suggested an 8 - L thought it was worthy of a 9.5.  I agreed to compromise with an 8 and a half out of ten, which does put it in the lead, and, when we returned the following night (I told you she was impressed), it managed to reach the same standard.  That, along with the friendly connection, might just make it a winner.
But, like I have said before, I am taking this mission very seriously.  Operation:Pizza has yet to be aborted...

Monday, 17 November 2014

(Michael) George and the Dragon

It had been a long yet productive day.  After two days of decorating, my dad (the aforementioned Michael George - see what I did there?) and I were ready for a treat.  Having been so impressed by the nearby Walthamstow Village last time he visited, I suggested we go again, and listed the various culinary options.  He fancied Italian - which was what I was secretly hoping.
You see, Operation:Pizza has yet to be concluded.
I was a bit nervous about returning to Nuovo Mondragone - last time I visited, they got my mate's order wrong, and left him waiting 20 minutes for a replacement.  Of course, by the time his meal came, I had finished mine, and I had to prompt them to offer some kind of compensation when the bill came.
But I like to think I am fair when it comes to pizza and war.
We were seated quite quickly.  The atmosphere was relaxed and family friendly - in fact the children at the table opposite were a constant source of entertainment.  We scanned our menus and decided to share some bread and olives before our main.  Dad, not being a pizza person, went for lasagne, and I decided to give Al Dragone a try - the combination of pepperoni, asparagus, dried chilli, aubergine and fresh tomato tickled my taste-buds' fancy.  Our minds made up, we waited to place our order.
And waited.
Eventually our waiter showed up and asked what we would like to drink.  Our alcoholic order given,we quickly slipped in our food before he could disappear again.

"Is the mozzarella fresh buffalo mozzarella?"  I enquired.  Sheepishly the waiter shook his head before skulking back to the kitchen.
After a slightly shorter wait, our drinks arrived, followed by our starter.  Dad really enjoyed the bread, but I was disappointed.  Yes, it was okay, but the garlic bread you get in Pizza Hut is no worse.  However, it filled a hole quite pleasantly.  Which turned out to be a good thing.
When our main finally arrived, my glass of wine was nearly empty and my napkin had begun to look rather appetizing.  My dad was offered parmesan, which he accepted.  I was not, which was all the more disappointing as the cheese was not only the cheap grated variety they use in the aforementioned chain, but rather scarce.
The pizza was okay, but, paired with the wait, failed to fill me with enthusiasm.  My easy-to-please father described his dish as "okay", which was not a great sign.  As our plates were cleared, we were offered dessert.  We declined, and asked for the bill.
15 minutes later, I asked for the bill again.
I left it another 10 before frantically waving over someone else.  Five minutes passed before it finally arrived.  My dad insisted on paying, but said I could leave a tip.  I didn't bother.
Needless to say, Nuovo Mondragone has been crossed off the list.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Buffalo Stance

I've walked past Fratelli La Bufala on Shaftesbury Avenue many a time and pondered.  I've heard that it was once part of the family business which split to create Mimmo La Bufala in Hampstead and its fine self.  The former is somewhere I have visited in he past,but, after a couple of disappointing meals, haven't been back to in a while.  But Fratelli La Bufala had caught my attention and stoked my curiosity.
As soon as I walked in, my suspicion that this was also part of the chain that I visited in Italy with L was confirmed.  I instantly recognised the menu, and the decor was as chic and cheerful as that of the Trieste branch.  This place appeared to be the real deal - the oven was wood fired, Aperol, Falanghina and Strega were on the drinks list (although they were out of the witches brew) and the mozzarella was indeed buffalo.  Result.
My mate Charlene and I started our meal with an Aperol Spritz and a bruschetta to share.  Whilst the vegetables in our starter were clearly fresh and of the highest quality, for me it was a little over-seasoned, and we were halfway through it before our drinks arrived.  But I decided to let those little niggles go, because I, ladies and gentleman, was there for the pizza.
Once more it was the Capricciosa which took my fancy and, once more, it didn't disappoint.  In fact, it was so damn tasty, I got over the absence of sprinkles after the first mouthful - and had completely forgotten about them by the last.  Our bellies full but our tastebuds gasping for more, we perused the dessert menu and decided to share a tiramisu which, washed down with a glass of vino, rounded off our meal beautifully.
So, the food?  Pretty darn good.  The location?  About as central as you can get.  The service?  Well, to be honest, it could have been better.  And the price?  Whilst not the cheapest of my choices, you couldn't really argue with paying what we did for the quality of  food we were served.  And, to top it all off, it just happens to be owned by the same family who run one of L's favourite pizza places in Italy itself.
I think those Buffalo brothers might be onto something,  And I think I might be too.

Friday, 26 September 2014

A nicer place to stuffa your face?

I was on my second pint before I realised I was in the wrong place.  Laura and I had finished fixing my website, and we were hungry.  And there was only one thing I was willing to eat.
"L suggested we try out Santore's.  S's friend works there, and apparently it's in Finsbury."
My heart sank as the Google search came though.  Santore's wasn't in Finsbury Park, but Exmouth Market - which, as some of you probably know, is in Finsbury Finsbury.  Once more, I had failed to do my research.  L would not be impressed.  I pulled out my notebook to scan my list of targets - and relaxed.
"Let's go to Papagone's."  I suggested.  "Okay, so it's a bit cheesy, but I'm pretty sure it has a wood fired oven."
I was right - and, after reading the menu, it became clear that Papagone's has more to it than meets the eye.  Fresh buffalo mozzarella?  Check.  Aperol spritz? Check.  Falanghina?  Check.  Strega?  Check.  And, to top it all off, I happen to know that their ice cream is to DIE for.
After careful consideration, I went for a Capricciosa - egg, ham, artichoke and, for an extra £1.90, buffalo mozzarella.  What came wasn't a disappointment - the base was a bit soggy, but I suspect this to be a side effect of the milky cheese.  What was more, I was offered sprinkles - result.  Laura was also happy with her Peppino - mozzarella, ricotta, spinach and sun dried tomato.
"It's a really good combo,"  she commented, "but Franco Mancha is better."
Mmm.  But Papagone's has a lot going for it and not just my points above - the staff are all Italian, the men flirtatious without being lecherous, the atmosphere fun and relaxed, and they cater for parties - which the repeated playing of "Happy Birthday" confirmed.  Okay, so at the end of our meal the service got a bit slow, but it was worth it for my pistachio and "nutella" ice cream - heaven.
Papagone's, I have to hand it to you - you've been the best so far. But will you beat Francho Mancha?  Only time will tell...

Friday, 19 September 2014

Second Screening

As you may have already figured out, I am taking this mission seriously - VERY seriously.  I have been doing my research, asking my fellow foodies where I can locate the perfect pizza - and there is one restaurant that keeps cropping up in conversation:  Franco Mancha.
So, when Charlotte suggested we meet up in Brixton, I jumped at the chance to try it out.  I say try out, but I have eaten there before.  Sadly on the day in question I had the joint second worst hangover of my life (I rate my hangovers as carefully as my pizzas) and I could have been served up a stuffed crust from Pizza Hut and appreciated in no less.
And so we headed over to the Village Market - to find it locked up.  Apparently Monday is not Pizza day in South London.
Undeterred, we Googled "Brixton" and "pizza" - and found one dodgy take-away listed.  That was when I remembered  - the Ritzy cinema did pizza, and I seemed to recall it wasn't bad.  
I have to say, I do enjoy hanging out at the Ritzy.  Not only does it show a pretty cool selection of movies, but the cafe and bar are great places to chill with a pint or grab a bite to eat.  But I didn't want to chill.  I was on a mission.
It turned out the pizza menu was pretty short, and only one of them had mozzarella on it - the classic margherita.  I went up to the bar to order, and was impressed not only by the  price (£7,50!) but also to hear that the mozzarella was of the buffalo variety.  In fact I was so impressed I decided to let them off failing to have a wood-fired oven and stone baking their grub instead.
Sadly, what arrived was a little on the disappointing side.  The pizza reminded me in taste and appearance of those mini ones my mum used to buy from Iceland - , hardly any tomato sauce, way to many herbs, chewy, and not a bit of fresh mozzarella in sight.  Oh.  Dear.
I like to think that the other pizzas on offer may have been better - but I know that L would NOT be impressed.  And, quite honestly, next time I go to the Ritzy, I'll stick with popcorn.
4/10.  And that's being generous...

Tuesday, 9 September 2014


It was within a week of my brief that I found myself in Soho.  The bar I had arranged to meet my fellow groupies in was closed, so I headed over to the Soho Theatre bar, safe in the knowledge that they served decent beer.
Little did I know, they also served pizza.  And not any old pizza.  Oh no.  Pizza from Soho Joes.
I tried to play it cool as I ordered; I was there as a friend of The Band we were about to see perform and the 100 Club, and I had a reputation to keep.  But I couldn't help myself.
"So is the mozzarella buffalo mozzarella?  And is it a wood-fired oven?"
My two pre-requisites failed to spark interest in our server.  They weren't really sure, and whilst the veggie option (that's aubergine, artichoke, mushroom and pepper if you are wondering) put in front of me confirmed the cheese situation (not a buffalo, fresh or otherwise in sight), our waitress was none the wiser about the state of the oven.
Another slice?  Well, one needs to be sure...
In all fairness, the pizza wasn't bad - it was pretty big, and at £9 a pop met my frugal standards.  As for the location? Can't argue really.
But a central location was not what I was looking for.  What I wanted was the best pizza in town, and whilst it tasted okay, the base was a bit soggy, and I was disappointed not to be offered any "sprinkles" - some Parmesan or chilli flakes might have made all the difference.
My friends tucked into a "Tonno" (tuna, red onion and olive) which went down very well, with the caveat that it's consumer would have eaten a fried rat and enjoyed it they were so hungry,  The "Choriza" (chorizo and red pepper) also filled a hole, but was reportedly more than a little greasy.  Mmmm....
Well, what can I say - I'm feeling generous.  The location and price balanced with the overall quality brings the Soho Theatre/Joes in as a 7/10 for me.  But is it good enough for L?
I don't think so.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Brief

It was on a Sunday afternoon that I first heard of my mission.  I was sat outside The Swan Hotel in Stafford sipping a pint of EPA when L pulled me to one side.
"There's something I need to tell you."  She muttered, eyeing our fellow patrons with suspicion.  I leant in.
"I want you to be in charge of the Hen Do - I'm going to have it in London.  But I don't want any L plates, or any of that shit."
My hear sank.
"No strippers?"
"No, No strippers, Shelly."  She hesitated.  "Can I trust you with this?"
"Yes, of course!"  I spluttered, the pain of my dented pride surpassing the feeling of mild disappointment.
"What I want, though, is pizza.  Good pizza."  She added.

I understood completely.  You see, L is quarter Italian.  And she is about to marry an Italian Italian.  "Good pizza" to her is not what it is to you or I - I can quite happily chow down a Pepperoni Passion from Dominoes and feel satisfied.  No, what we were talking about was the real deal:  fresh buffalo mozzarella and a paper thin base, cooked to perfection in a wood fired oven.  I swallowed awkwardly, my throat suddenly dry.  I took a sip of my beer.
"No problem."
"Good."  She sat back in her chair and lit a cigarette before turning her attention back to the rest of our party.  I let the conversation wash over me as I digested the enormity of the task ahead of me.  I knew that I couldn't screw this up, and I knew that there was only one way that I could fulfill this brief.
I was going to have to eat pizza.  A lot of pizza.