While the ancients in Europe and the far east ate baked bread dough, topped with fruit, nuts, meat and cheese, it was the emergence of the word “Pizza” in Naples in the 16th century that signifies the start of the mega-phenomena we know today. Fast forward several hundred years, finding great (dare we say “the best”) pizza is surprisingly tough. From home-delivered greasy discs topped with questionably sourced toppings, through to franchise “gourmet” businesses, who’s claim is only reflected in price, the pizza world is complex and, in London, unfortunately prone to disappointment.
But of late it seems there’s been a Pizza renaissance. The traditional mainstays have been joined by a group of challengers, each achieving varying levels of hype, but all providing a preferable pie. And, we’d argue, each having a different slice of the market. You see, Pizza works in a variety of circumstance, from casual street food to more formal evenings out. So rather than find “the best”, we thought we’d offer up a selection.
Best street food: @PizzaPilgrims
Founded by two gents who trekked 4,000km across Italy to research the Pizza tradition, Pizza Pilgrims have a hard earned and well deserved reputation for being amongst the best. Baked fresh and served fast, you’ll only have to choose from three or four options. These sour dough pizza’s are simply topped with authentic ingredients (how does portobello mushroom and truffle oil bianco sound?) and are so good that they often sell out their daily supply of dough. Get in early!
To be fair, they’re no longer a pure-play street food vendor (Pizza Pilgrim’s is now open in three London locations), but we still prefer to eat them that way. In August you’ll find their van at Summer Tales in Old Street, Thursday through Saturday nights. More information at pizzapilgrims.co.uk.
Down with the kids: Pizza Union
Pizza Union, now well established in Spitalfields has just extended to Kings Cross. This tasty, super fast (3 minutes in the oven is all it takes) pizza in a trendy atmosphere hits a very particular spot and is achingly popular with the younger crowd. That said, when two *almost* 40 year-old foodies ventured, we gobbled up the crispy based pizza and happily lingered to finish our wine.
Part of the youthful appeal of Pizza union is no doubt the value. A 12″ Margherita for £3.95 and the more heavily (and meatily) topped pizza’s come in at £5.95. Costs are kept down in part as there’s no table service: order at the counter and you’ll be buzzed when it’s time to collect your order.
If you do go, be sure to try the filled dough ring. We shared one between two. It’s awesome foodporn and finger licking good. Pizza Union Kings Cross at 246-250 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JY, more information at www.pizzaunion.com.
Most hyped: Franco Manca
Not being huge fan’s of waiting, we skipped out of the queue at Franco Manca Soho, hoping the Tottenham Court Road branch would be less popular. How wrong we were, the queue here was just as long and we almost gave up. But glancing inside to the busy, open plan kitchen and the vibrant, on-trend crowd ordering, sipping, eating and chatting, we couldn’t resist. The queue moved fast and after another streamlined decision (only six topping choices here), the pizza came quickly.
Franco Manca’s dough is superb. Our white pizza (no tomato) was so creamy the dough and the ricotta almost melded. It was like eating air. Thoughtfully prepared toppings too, like marinated courgettes and Franco’s own pecorino graced the bready base. Has to be said: this place is worth the hype.
Franco Manca are soon to be at 15 locations across London, though they’re managing to maintain good quality pie. For more information visit www.francomanca.co.uk.
Neighbourhood favourite: The Regent, Barnsbury
With plentiful carbs, fat and protein, Pizza has to be one of the ultimate comfort foods. And that’s why on a Friday night we can often be found at our local pub, the Regent. The pub is sister to the Lauriston in Victoria Park, both attract a welcoming, vibrant, local crowd and both serve up great stonebaked Pizza. Toppings are generous and include a potato, rosemary and gorgonzola ($7.95) as well as our favourite, the spinach and olive, topped with a poached egg (£8.25). Not quite as cost-effective as some of the high volume, low cost new arrivals, but worth it for the atmosphere and friendly service.
The Regent serves pizza lunch and dinner, 7 days a week and offer gluten free on request. Visit them at 201 Liverpool Roadd, Islington, N1 1LX. Visit theregentpub.com for more information.
It might be a dish with ancient heritage, but Pizza continues to be deliciously contemporary and hugely popular. It’s great to see it’s reinvention has upped the quality, without a ridiculous price. What’s more with the range available, it’s now more than ever, the best dish for just about any occasion.