Anyone who’s read this blog will know how much I love pizza. When made well, it is quite simply the mother of all dishes. Anything that can taste so good with just flour, tomato and cheese as its base ingredients deserves special recognition. The pizza proves that simplicity is key to a good dish; less is indeed more.
My love for pizza was reignited by a recent trip to Naples, where an authentic Neapolitan pizza will rarely cost more than €5. Thus my quest began to find the best pizzas in London, with only two important categories in mind. I wanted to concentrate on Neapolitan pizzas, with their chewy base, thick crust and simple, top-quality ingredients. A happy side effect of my Neapolitan adventure was that, while never quite as good as in Naples, there are a plethora of joints serving very good Neapolitan-style pizza.
The ideal pizzeria has few options on the menu, concentrating on sourcing the finest toppings rather than gimmicky ingredients (disclaimer: I love a good ham and pineapple, but anywhere willing to feature this in there restaurant is immediately disqualified, there is no place for pineapple on a Neapolitan pizza). Pizza should also be cheap, so nothing over £10 was considered, though a margherita shouldn’t cost more than £7.50.
The following is not an exhaustive list; I haven’t been to every pizzeria in London. I have, however, been to many, and these five, in no particular order, plus one because I couldn’t decide which to demote, are currently my favourites.
At £7.50, a margherita at Sacro Cuore is (slightly) above average price, but well worth the extra pennies. Originally opened in 2012 in Kensal Rise, the owners recently expanded to trendy Crouch End. Thankfully, the new branch has maintained high standards. The restaurant’s website sets out its stall as a serious pizzeria, “for us it is all about the pizza!”, and they certainly mean it: aside from a few starters and salads, there are no alternative mains tarnishing the menu. Sacro Cuore is for pizza and pizza alone. On a cold Wednesday afternoon, I was the only customer, and within a couple of minutes of my order, a piping hot, beautiful pizza arrived on my plate. The base was up there with the best, light and chewy, filled with air bubbles. In addition to the normal margherita ingredients, parmesan added welcome saltiness, and the chef was generous with his basil. There’s nothing worse than a pizza with two measly basil leaves. A minor negative was the tinny flavour of the tomato sauce. Overall, however, Sacro Cuore thoroughly deserves its status as one of London’s foremost pizzas.
Cost of Margherita: £7.50
Where: Kensal Rise, Crouch End
In some ways, Soho’s Princi is a victim of its own success. A visit to the Italian patisserie, bakery and pizzeria often requires a long wait to be seated, thanks to the no bookings policy and the quality of food on offer. On one half of the restaurant is the more informal patisserie and bakery section, where customers can purchase pastries, salads and meals at the bar and find a seat. The other half houses the pizzeria, and one can expect to wait up to an hour for a table. Be patient, the pizza is worth waiting for. Princi was introduced to London in 2008, a branch of a renowned Milanese bakery, and swiftly became one of the most popular Italian restaurants in London. In a huge wood-fired oven, the pizzaiolos produce some of the finest pizzas in London, with thick, chewy crusts and the finest toppings. Some of the more interesting options include Bresaola, rocket and parmesan, and beef ragu, olive and radicchio. Princi is slightly smarter than the other places on this list, a dinner date location rather than the place for a quick snack (unless, of course, you choose to eat from the bar on the informal half). On a recent visit, the margherita, at £5.50, was a bargain, though the website still lists it as £7.50. Most other pizzas hover around the slightly overpriced £10 mark. Nevertheless, it is an authentic and smart pizzeria right in the heart of London.
Cost of Margherita: £5.50/7.50.
Opened by Giuseppe Mascoli in Brixton in 2008, Franco Manca has become one of the largest pizza chains in the Southeast, with 28 branches and counting. Franco Manca has gone from small, local pizzeria to pizza monolith, losing points for coolness along the way (opening in both Westfields and owned by a corporation that also possesses Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Real Greek and, heavens forbid, Pizza Express). Yet its service to mankind, at least in London, should not be underestimated. The chain’s expertly crafted sourdough pizzas, still available at unbeatable prices, have almost single-handedly popularised the Neapolitan pizza, superior to every other version of the Italian dish. While other restaurants have started to produce equally delectable pies, Franco Manca still wins for toppings, sourcing from the best local and Italian producers. The ‘No 4’, featuring Gloucester Old Spot Ham and Buffalo Ricotta, is not to be missed. Pleasingly, there are never more than five or six options, though the staff are always happy to accommodate. My advice, get there before it truly outgrows itself.
Cost of Margherita: £5.90
The website’s claim that Santa Maria’s pizza is “exactly the same as the pizza you can eat on the streets of Naples” is somewhat of an exaggeration, no pizza in London is as good as what you’ll get in Naples. Yet Santa Maria, which opened in Ealing in 2010, and has since launched a second branch in Chelsea, does serve superb pizza. Time Out named it London’s best pizza just weeks after it opened. The restaurant itself is tiny; on our visit, we were told to wait 45 minutes before a table would be free. Thankfully, pizzas are served by the dozen at the pub next door, the Red Lion. The pizza was indeed top drawer. I opted for the Santa Caterina, a margherita topped with Neapolitan salami, chill and parmesan. The base, risen for 24 hours, wood fired and as fluffy as seemingly possible, was excellent. The combination of parmesan and salami, however, was slightly too salty. Another minor complaint is one that may only affect those eating at the pub. A pizza should arrive piping hot, and ours didn’t. Admittedly it was extremely busy, but the distance from oven to pub may have played a part. Nevertheless, Santa Maria is certainly deserving of its position as one of the best pizzas in London.
Cost of Margherita: £6.95
Where: Ealing, Chelsea
A thoroughly modern eatery, Fundi was founded in 2012 by brothers Charlie and Rory Nelson, who built their own oven from scratch and plunged into London’s emerging street food scene. Four years on, they regularly serve some of London’s tastiest pizzas, at reasonable prices, with fixed spots at Street Feast’s Dinerama in Shoreditch and at Kerb Camden. Another conscious peddler of Neapolitan pizza, the pizzas are expertly crafted and baked for 90 seconds (almost double a Franco Manca pizza). The outcome is a delicious, thin pizza, up there with the best in London. I have a personal preference for minimalism when it comes to food outlets, and Fundi obliges, offering five varieties of pizza. Try the affumicata, a delectable combination of smoked mozzarella and pancetta. Most of the pizzerias on this list were established by Italians; the Nelson brothers have matched them at their own game.
Cost of Margherita: £6
Where: Kerb Camden, Dinerama
Recently, the Well Kneaded Wagon can be found in several markets across London throughout the week, catering to hungry customers at lunchtime. Founded in 2011, the outlet, which offers “wood-fired sourdough pizza with British seasonal ingredients”, has received countless awards, including winning the best pizza prize at the British Street Food Awards in 2012. And it’s easy to see why. On my visit, there were indeed several interesting “seasonal ingredients”, such as a pizza with smoked pancetta and squash. I settled, nevertheless, for a margherita, my go to pizza of choice. It was one of the best I’ve tried in London, with the fluffiest, chewiest base of all (a very good thing). The garlicky tomato sauce possibly topped that of any pizza I tried; such a simple ingredient can make a big difference. The one downside was size, about half a regular pizza. Of course, this critique is in itself praise; as I finished I was craving more.
Cost of Margherita: £5.50
Where: Various (check website for details)