Kraken Black Spiced Rum
4 stars based on
However, this last Sunday I had the opportunity to expand my horizons somewhat, courtesy of a Bonobo gig at Brixton Academy Bonobo featuring on the blog last May in fact! The menu certainly appealed to me, and had a decent amount of variation in the pizza toppings, especially when you factored in the specials board which annoyingly I forgot to take a picture of, whoops.
The drinks selection is pretty simple and, from what we had, high quality stuff at very reasonable prices. When the pizzas arrived, I have to say they were beautiful — in particular, the Lady Royale which was like Jackson Pollock in a more orderly moment had turned his hand to Italian food.
And this proved to be the star of the show — the cured meat pizza was decent, but not outstanding. The base was pleasingly crispy and bubbly, and held together well throughout, but not especially flavourful for a sourdough effort. The meats were larger cuts, which made divvying the pizza into slices a little bit trickier than it really needed to be.
There was a lot more tomato on this than the other offering, a deep red covering the whole base, and atop this the incredibly creamy, delicate burratina, the generous drizzlings of a lovely, fresh-tasting pesto and a huge handful of fresh basil.
The service was more than a little wonky, even while being friendly — more than a few times I needed service, but ended up waving and trying to call attention to no avail, so was sat without a drink a few times. They just came across as a bit lackadaisical, with a blind spot for us in the far corner. But that Lady Royale pizza… make no mistake, if I get chance to eat that again, I will do, sketchy service or not. It was absolutely wonderful. But several people told me it is excellent, and so a dinner was booked alongside my friends Rich and Elliot a fine pair with excellent knowledge of food and drink from their work in hospitality over the years.
We took our seats and perused the very appealing menus. The starters arrived, and very well presented they were too. In particular, the burrata excited my tingle zone. The speck was fragrant, delicious, and remarkably lean. I actually would have preferred a tiny bit more fat on there, which is not something I would normally say about cooked meats. Given the progressing strength of the flavours in play, it was pretty much essential to eat the items in the order I just described them, or risk spoiling the experience of something as simple and light on the tongue as a good burrata.
Pizza number one to arrive was the anchovy one. As the photo above shows, the bread was cooked to perfection, with seemingly a little sprinkling of semolina flour giving it that particular dusted texture on the crusts, which were springy and spongey in just the right way, while the base held together to be eaten by hand as slices brilliantly. So we were off to an excellent start with a very good pizza indeed.
Up next was the nduja offering. This presentation did confuse me somewhat though — the caciocavallo cheese was clearly added immediately before being sent to the table, resulting in a pile of unmelted dairy atop the blob of nduja. But the cheese… why not just show it to the heat of their oven for a moment to creating a little cheesy envelope for the nduja? Pizza number 3, and the meal was sitting on the edge of a razor blade — able to be a true top contender, or merely in the chasing pack. This one — pork sausage, parmigiana reggiano, tomato, black pepper.
The sausage was good and meaty, but the pizza as a whole lacked a certain something. To be clear, these were not bad pizzas at all. The bases were all absolutely bang on, the ingredients clearly high quality, and I did like the tomato very much. I also appreciate that there is clearly thought going into doing these in somewhat unusual ways that differ from pizza to pizza.
In summary, a qualified success from a restaurant that is obviously unafraid to try out some ideas others might back away from. Worth seeking out and giving a go if you are in the area. The last ten years has seen a revolution in the standard of food in London. A pizzeria reputed to be arguably the greatest in the world was heading to London. And then, it was announced that they would open on Friday February 3rd. Photos of gigantic crowds of people queuing outside on the opening evening were posted, and early reports were uniformly favourable.
We arrived at roughly 1pm on Friday afternoon. A small cluster of people were huddled outside, but no obvious sign of what the process to get a table was — I asked, and was told I had to go inside to get a ticket.
In I popped, to the very smart, simple restaurant which holds maybe 30 or so diners at a timescanned around and went over to the nearest staff member, who was at the till. Not the end of the world, but pretty poor form on the customer service front. Once they turned to me, I asked if I needed a ticket, told her it was for 2, grabbed my ticket and headed back outside to the snowy London afternoon.
After 5 minutes more she emerged from the front door calling numbers. And so that wait was pleasantly brief.
We were seated inside, mercifully away from the door, which seemed incapable of shutting properly, meaning the customers sat by it had to keep their winter jackets on throughout their meals, and spent as long trying to keep the door closed as eating.
The restaurant was packed. Obviously, all the seats were taken. But also all available space between seats. This is Stoke Newington. Why on earth had I not considered that simple universal Stokey reality? I think I saw more babies at tables than pizzas. Mercifully, the babies were all being pretty quiet.
We sat at our seat, and were handed our menus. We ordered a margherita and a Moretti beer each, and made ourselves comfortable. The bread was charred to just the right degree, the mozzarella melted to perfection, plenty of tomato. Now, this is where things get a little tricky. This was a really good pizza. The tomato was very, very tasty, nice and just about sweet enough without going overboard.
I would have liked more than one solitary basil leaf on such a large pizza — it gave a bit of aroma, but the mouthfuls which actually had some basil were lifted considerably. Despite plentiful tomato and a decent amount of mozzarella, there were no issues with soggy bread or standing liquid atop the pizza. And the marinaras look great too. Homeslice have a neat trick where they sprinkle the wooden board on which the pizzas are served with sea salt, which leads to little flavour bombs throughout your meal.
One thing I noticed which is worth mentioning is that despite us taking our sweet time over our beers, and despite a constant half-dozen-person queue outside, they made no effort to hurry us along, which I rather liked.
But being completely honest, I suspect this related to the lack of attention I mentioned on arrival — we were only offered desserts after we had already asked for the bill for instance! And there is much work to be done in terms of front of house service. Both have since exploded in popularity and number of outlets — Honest with 18, and Franco Manca with an incredible 29 including a couple on the South coast. As a previous review of Honest made clear, I have mixed feelings about this, as it can lead to huge difficulties in maintaining standards and consistency.
Anyway, to this review. I linked up with the one and only DJ Yoda for lunch at the London Fields outlet for a new year catch up, and we set about sampling their wares. Both of us had exhausted the regular menu options in our previous visits, which I will talk about later, so decided to go for the two specials — a meat one, and a vegetarian one.
The mozzarella was decent if unspectacular. However, the fennel salami was delicious, three big slices that had a very strong flavour and aroma, which worked well against the delicate milkiness of the mozzarella and the simple rocket and tomato salad. Personally, I would much rather have the extra or reduction for that matter built into the price as ingredients ebb and flow in cost, rather than find out that they are cutting corners when a mushroom pizza arrives with two or three tiny mushrooms as happened to a friend some time ago and have to wait for it to be remedied, spoiling the flow of a meal.
But as I said — no such issues here. I am a big fan of the tomato that Franco Manca use, but the real star of their pizza is the sourdough base. You know you are on to a winner when the crusts that many people might discard are as tasty as any of the toppings. I have to say, on this occasion it seemed slightly less flavourful than it has been at other times. These toppings were excellent, with the ample fat marbling of the capocollo meaning that it easily cut and pulled apart, as the heat of the pizza softened the fat running through each slice.
This type of tomato is famously considered the premium for pizzas, and is slightly sweeter from this sampling, but nothing massively consequential to my tastebuds. It was perfectly decent, but lacked magic. Both of us agreed that the meat special was superb, and this one just good. Looking at the regular menu, you can see the prices are very reasonable for a London restaurant. The flipside of the menu goes over a few testimonials, as well as the source of their excellent ingredients.
I got ridiculously excited when this London Fields branch originally opened, and have eaten there both in the restaurant and the little courtyard out the back many times now. So in summary, Franco Manca is ace. The value is remarkable compared to many other eateries and pizzerias, and the meat special I had was a top 10 job, absolutely exceptional stuff.
Can it possibly live up to the hype? I managed to sneak in between a pair of gigs on a Friday night, and it was a simple task for me to choose the sustenance from the offerings available — piggies in blankets and the XXXmas Burger, as well as one of their excellent sazeracs. The piggies in blankets were absolutely bloody lovely. Fantastically juicy and meaty, with a wonderful flavour that danced around savoury with a hint of sweetness in there, you could tell that these chipolatas are made from great pork.
A little blob of mustard to add heat made for a genuinely delicious side dish. The turkey is thin slices kind of folded up in there, going against the grain in the Christmas burger which seems to favour a big lump of, breaded, deep-fried breast. The top filling is the rather clever bacon disk they make — basically smushing and cooking a load of bacon so it fits in the bun better than the more normal slices people would use.
The stuffing crumbles were a little dry I thought, presumably because of being smaller pieces, but a good touch — stuffing is quintessentially Christmassy for me. The Old Spot patty was excellent, with the cranberry adding that traditional sweetness aspect of a Christmas sarnie. It was a really proper feast of flavours and textures — the turkey was so juicy, savoury and succulent in particular. I demolished the thing in no time at all, and it really did evoke the season to my palate.
And so I naturally sought to find out whether they were doing a Christmas burger — it was a yes, a table was booked, friends bailed at the last minute, all seemed lost, and then a 2nd opportunity arose. In we went, and what a lovely place it is.