Thinking about pizza has always been an enjoyable way to pass time for me. Call me sad but it’s something I lust after anywhere: from my bed in the mornings to jogging along the seafront. Previously not having much choice, bar the standard high street chains or ordering delivery from one of two (very) expensive establishments for my fix, the pizza revolution of Brighton & Hove has changed my ways for good. Each pizzeria that’s appeared in the last few years has its own unique twist on classic cooking techniques, keeping a diverse pool for us to choose from. Originating in Brixton in 2008, the team behind Franco Manca restaurants has spent the last eight years perfecting their recipes. They craft their delicacies on slow-rising sourdough and bake it in an authentic Napoletano wood-burning brick over. This paring of Brixton-chic and Italian heritage makes for something really special. Keeping this great cuisine pumping out of the kitchen is Enzo – not only our waiter for the afternoon but one of the happiest people I’ve ever encountered. He welcomes us with a smile and keeps us entertained with deep, rumbling renditions of Italian songs, which keeps us thoroughly aware of the restaurant’s roots. The clean, industrial style décor of metal and wood nods to its Brixton birthplace, whilst colourful mismatched Mediterranean tiles on the floor downstairs and walls upstairs transport us to southern Europe. The bright and airy interior also has lots of nice private nooks to sit in and get cosy for when the weather cools down.
Menus already on the table, we get straight down to business. The ethos clearly explained and the time taken to list the origins of their ingredients, we feel really comfortable. Their menu consists mainly of pizzas with just a few starters and sides (the rest of which reside on a shared starters/specials board). Drinks first, always, we opt for their No Logo beers. At £3.35 apiece, choose between 330ml of pale ale or lager. The former is light and hoppy – a perfect choice for a summer’s afternoon. It being before 5pm, we had the foresight of having some soft drinks too so our Saturday afternoon didn’t start to resemble a Friday night down on West Street. This came in the form of organic homemade lemonade (£2). Fresh and summery, the balance of sweet and sour is perfect and it’s served in a cute little bottle with a straw.
Starters to begin, we choose the lemownsouine bresaola platter (£5.75). Enough for two, the air-dried beef is salty, tender and flavoursome but not too strong or gamey, making it a great starting plate. Loving our food, it doesn’t always matter if we’ve had ‘enough for two’… So we try the smoked buffalo mozzarella (£5) as well. With real smoky tastes, it has a welcome creamy and rubbery shell that satisfyingly oozes when cut. Served with cherry tomatoes, rocket and olives, it really is an Italian treat.
And so the crescendo of the afternoon: pizza. My dining partner opts for a special topped with Parma ham, rocket, buffalo mozzarella, tomato sauce and Cantarelli grana, which is a lot like Parmesan but has a much deeper flavour. We actually ended up sharing our food (when in Rome…), so I can honestly say the freshness of the sauce complimented the salty and tender Parma ham perfectly. I order pizza ‘3’ from the menu: courgettes, basil, mozzarella, buffalo ricotta, Franco & Cantarelli grana. It has no tomato sauce which for me is a daring choice (I lead a sheltered life). We’re both, to this day, so impressed their chefs manage to make courgettes taste so gorgeous! The menu tells us that the courgettes used are Italian and Spanish in June then sourced from the UK in August. From October they hail from the Mediterranean so we know we’re eating the best produce to be found. The menu recounts the life of most of their ingredients, a pivotal addition for such a foodie city as ours. It also makes us feel as though the restaurant is being completely transparent with their clientele – no pretence, no over-complication. The dough, perfectly browned, boasted its toppings: the light, summery feel of the experience here really is twinned with its menu. Creamy but slightly nutty cheese makes for a perfect delicacy.
Bursting at the seams by the time Enzo comes to tempt us with sweet goodies, we cave and order one each regardless. Sharing again, we pick lemon cake and chocolate cake (because our palates have turned decidedly British again) at £3.95 each. The former is grainy in consistency but in the best way it could be. It’s aromatic, engendering hints of rosemary and lemon, while being dense and syrupy. It’s served with creamy Greek yoghurt, which helps refresh the palate and a kick of honey for extra sweetness. The chocolate cake is surprisingly lighter than its citrus counterpart. Packed with almonds and fruit, the dark chocolate is definitely lifted but isn’t overly sweet.
As the evening draws in, we realise we’ve been hogging our table for a little longer than expected. So with a swift measure of limoncello, we hit the road. And we’ll certainly be back.
Franco Manca is at 1-2 Regent Street, Brighton, BN1 1UL