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Oct 18, 2008 06:53 AM

Franco Manca - Underwhelming


I finally made it to Franco Manca. I went over to Brixton market to pick up some things that I just can't find in the east (Thai stuff and some Italian stuff, basically.) We arrived nearly 30 minutes early and waited because of the stories about lines. The wait was pleasant, fine, and we were solicited for DVD sales and marijuana once each. Ah, to your table service. Once the rush was on it was most definitely on. A line stretched to nearly the market entrance (on the much closer side, of course) and all of the seats were filled. We ended up sharing our table with two (pretty damn funny) guys, but it was a bit cramped. Onto the food and drink.

The wine was drinkable and at 1.20 a glass I wasn't complaining, but the pizza had some serious issues. We ordered a tomato, garlic, and oregano pie as well as a tomato, garlic, oregano, mozzarella, capers, anchovies, and olives pie. Both had their pros and cons, but I would have to say that the overall experience was very underwhelming. The oregano, garlic, and tomato had a well-made sauce. A thoroughly damn good pizza sauce. The oregano was scant, but flavorful. On the other hand, the garlic was virtually non-existent. I was happily expecting whole or at least halved cloves. The really awful part was the crust, dough, etc. While pizza and pita enjoy a similar heritage, there is no way in hell that a pizza dough should remind me of its Greek forefather. This dough was soft. Too soft. The crust had no life and was partially uncooked at it's deepest bits. This was, however, the very first pie to come out of their entire oven and therefore the oven wasn't hot enough yet. I'll write that off as an oven issue, but they should have let it warm up properly then. The second pie (and likely their second pie out of the oven) had a vastly superior crust which I think was very good. It had a light crispiness and an all around excellent consistency. Delicious. However, the topping combination was just too salty. I like salty. Salty is great. However, the capers clearly weren't soaked before they were put on (they were brine capers, but still. Waaaay too strong.) That wasn't the worst of it though. The anchovies would have been wonderfully pleasant if they had a quick rinse and maybe a resoak in some fresh olive oil, but these clearly went from jar to pizza to oven with disastrously salty results. I wasn't impressed. Also, their farm sourced mozzarella was not fresh and bordered on flavorless. It was just melted into a semi solid, rather than that creamy amazing melt that fresh mozzarella would achieve. Again, not impressed. The sauce was still excellent and the dough was great on this one, though.

My recommendation is to wait at a table from before opening, order a simple sfincione-like tomato, garlic, and oregano pie, BUT ask for it to be well-done and ask for them to put halved or whole cloves of garlic on top of it. I think that would create a very solid pizza. As is, the stuff they're tossing out is pretty bad and I find it laughable that it would be rated the best pizza in the UK.

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  1. Everything is relative.

    1. I've only ever had great pizza at Franco Manca, but haven't been since they became uber-busy. Perhaps they're having some consistency issues? I would also say that I wouldn't expect half cloves of garlic on a pizza.

      The pizza at Franco Manca is vastly superior to the one I had over the summer in Italy. The crust is just excellent (the owner gave me a bit of starter on Friday which I used to make some quite excellent sourdough bread yesterday).

      1. Seems a shame.

        I'm yet to go there, but I'm DEFINITELY going during the week.

        15 Replies
        1. re: Nii

          half or whole cloves of garlic? really?

          1. re: t_g

            The guys at Franco Manca are purists. They'd never put half or whole cloves of garlic on a pizza.

            1. re: greedygirl

              yeah... they refuse to serve cappucinos or lattes or even a machiato.. "they dont have milk." :)

            2. re: t_g

              also if you need thai ingredients in east london then it would probably be easier to either go to mare st or the enormous asian supermarket in greenwich

              1. re: t_g

                I was thinking that to. I've seen at least a couple of Thai/Vietnamese shops along Mare street.

                JFores - Try 101 Thai Kitchen in Hammersmith if you're ever after good Thai food. They specialise in Isarn cuisine.

                1. re: Nii

                  Thanks for the 101 Thai rec, Nii. I was told to go there quite a while ago, but the reviews seem to waver back and forth. One person told me it really wasn't anything special and after that I haven't made the trek out there. I had no idea about the Asian markets in Greenwich and I will definitely use them in the future. I could avoid the trip to Brixton entirely if I could find some proper Italian or Portugese stores in Greenwich (I never have time to just wander around there. My schedule is death at the moment.)

                  On the pizza, they can do what they want, but I don't regard the salt attack pie that I was given as being particularly traditional either. If the'yre going to say that they only serve traditional pizza then they might as well drop the sausage, mushroom, etc toppings all together. The whole/half cloves of garlic thing is pretty common. I've never seen it in Naples, but I've had it in Rome, Genoa, and Brooklyn. Even without that, the tomato, oregano, and garlic would be very good if ordered well done.

                  I dunno. Maybe they are slipping because of the rush? The crust on the first pie I got was literally unbelievably soft. It was like a thick pita bread or the really soft pizza you'll sometimes get from Argentine shops. All in all, good effort out of the guys for even trying something like this in London and especially in Brixton, but there's something off about this. I can't be the only person who had a negative experience there.

                  BTW, the 2nd pie I got which came out of the oven later (and I'd assume after it hit a better temperature) was WORLDS better dough wise. Like leaps, bounds, etc. It's just the toppings that killed it. Their mozzarella is especially bad. It melts into such an immovable blob.

                  Good value though. They just need a bit more consistency.

                  1. re: JFores

                    re: 101 thai kitchen, i went back here in the wkend and it was v good. they have stuff on the menu like fish innards curry, isarn sausage, jellyfish salad &c so if anything like that interests you then i'd give it a visit. it is a long way away from east london tho.

                    1. re: t_g

                      There's another good place in North Kensington called Thai Cafe or something, does anyone know anything about it?

                      I think FM suits Brixton very well, what with the steady gentrification of the place. I hope standards haven't started to slip, because JFores underwhelming experience is the first 'bad' review I've heard.

                      Has anyone been in the deli a few door down? I drifted past last week and it looked interesting. I love Brixton, it's such a complete mish mash of places to eat; it's the people, the vibe and the slightly seedy edge that gives it the 'cool'f actor I think. I don't know how I'd live without the market I'm sure many would disagree and say Brixton's had it's hey day.

                      JFores - Have you tried some markets nearer to where you're living - e.g Ridley Road?

                      1. re: Nii

                        I've bought a few things from there. The Spanish organic olive oil is good value and you can bring the bottle back to refill it. I also bought some of the loose pasta, which is the same price as De Cecco, some chorizo and a bag of organic flour for making bread. I also managed to cadge some sourdough starter, which I used to make the most fabulous bread the other day (Mr GG says I could sell it for £3 a pop like all the artisan bakers do!). The nice Italian man also gave me some of the special organic spelt they use in the bread - for free.

                        The veg looks good - especially the wild mushrooms. And I've heard good reports of the ricotta cheesecake. I think they're gradually getting more stuff in. I'm really hoping they get the marinated artichokes I had on a pizza special a few weeks ago. They were completely amazing.

                        1. re: Nii

                          I completely agree. I think Brixton is definitely coming up but not in a bad way. It still has that edgy-ness that 'keeps it real'

                          Went to the colombian place Como y Punto in the market today - had a very hearty Bandeja Paisa (beans, steak, chorizo, fried egg, pork belly, rice, salad, cornbread) which was very authentic, washed down with a Agua de panela (brown sugar lemonade) . Good honest grub.

                          1. re: foreignmuck

                            It's been "up and coming" for years to be fair. As a fairly long-term resident (15 years and counting) I don't think it will ever lose its edge, which is a good thing.

                            1. re: greedygirl

                              I didnt mean it was up and coming. more like it's coming into it's element recently. I guess this is partly due to friends moving into the area, and special spots like Franco Manca coming into existence.

                              Nii: no, i havent tried Inca's Way. Is it worth a go? Ive been to Amazonica, but it was called something else before. Also, not in the market but a great tapas place called El Rincon Latino, on Clapham Manor street (i think) turn off at KFC on Clapham High Street.

                            2. re: foreignmuck

                              Coma y Punto is magnificent. I've been going here quite a bit lately, but I'm only just writing a bit about it now. Whenever you go just ask for the special of the day. The (awesome) guy in there will list 2-3 dishes for the day (all of which are 6 quid.) Basically, I go every Tuesday and have a steak, a bowl of soup (got free refills a few times too), beans, roast potatoes, cabbage salad, a sugar cane juice, and coffee for 6 quid.

                        2. re: JFores

                          Judging by the queues and the rave reviews I've heard from everyone who lives round here, you may be on your own!

                          There's bound to be at least one Italian deli in Greenwich btw. It's a pretty middle class area these days. I know someone at work who lives there so I'll ask him if you like.

                          1. re: greedygirl

                            Wow GG, 15 years in Bricce! I'm sure you've seen some changes! I was still a wee lad in school uniform 15 years ago, but I remember coming into Brixton once with my sister and a friend and walking through the market!

                            Foreign muck - I love Como y Punto. A real haven for Columbian, but they make you feel so welcome. Have you tried Incas Way along Brixton road towards Oval? Know of any other hidden gems in the market?

                            Sorry for hijacking your thread Justin!

                2. I gave Franco Manca a 2nd shot today during the 11am to 4pm layover that UCL scheduled me between my lectures (as you can see their scheduling it the work of genuises. It's so long that I need to find significant things to do, but not long enough to make it home and back in time. Instead I've taken to lunch in East Ham or playing games on my laptop while pulling my hair out in Italia Uno.) It was quite a bit more positive than my last experience, but nothing amazing or revolutionary.

                  I asked for a number 6 with extra garlic and for it to be "well done." I had a glass of wine with this. Their wine was as good as last time and the pizza arrived in considerably better form than either of the pies I had received on that Saturday (there was no rush and no wait at all today.) There were still some issues. Their sauce is very good, they added the garlic that I requested, but the crust was still so chewy and soft that it was barely distinguished from the rest of the pie. The only real difference between this number 6 and my last one (aside from the garlic) was a bit of blackened char on bits of the crust which must be their idea of well done. It's decent and I'll eat it, but the crust is just not what I'm looking for an it's not even a Naples thing, because I've had pizza their and their crust is usually a thing of beauty. Otherwise, the rest of the dough was nice and had good chew which is probably due to their sour dough base.

                  I'd be willing to continue going, but Las Americas (the Colombian fried everything lunch counter around the corner) still holds a stronger place in my Brixton mindset than Franco Manca. Regardless, much more positive than my first trip.

                  Also, it came to 3 quid each for two people so I really can't argue with that.


                  6 Replies
                  1. re: JFores

                    Try Rosies cafe around the corner next time. I had their scrambled eggs with chilli jam and prosciutto for breakfast today. Yum

                    May foods for home style Ghanaian grub is another alternative.

                    1. re: JFores

                      I think the wine is awful! But then I'm used to the good stuff these days...

                      1. re: greedygirl

                        I was intriguied by the comment about £1.20 wine being good.

                        That is £7 a bottle in the restaurant . Given the fixed taxes (£1.49 a 75cl bottle), the shipping costs, and the mark up from the wholesaler and restaurant mark-up (often 200 to 300%). It is probably wine that cost less than 50p to produce.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          It's not good, believe me. It's definitely rustic. Mr GG likes it though - says it goes with the pizza.

                          1. re: greedygirl

                            We tried nearly all the list at Jamie's Italian including the bargain organic he has - and this sounds like the one Franco's has.......two months later and I still have the headache...! Pizza sounds great - the wine looks suspect.

                            1. re: PhilD

                              I'm biased as I live in the area and it's great to see Brixton doing what it does best - Franco Manca is unpretentious, down to earth but with a bit of a Brixton edge... you can get some serious shouting matches in the hairdressers at the end of Market Row. But even if I didn't live close by, I'd travel here for the pizza. True the edges are not very crusty but then I prefer them that way (and it is how I was served pizza on any number of occassions in Naples). And I don't think anyone could fault them for the effort they have put into providing a top quality product at generously low prices. The wine isn't great - it's probably the only place where I'd skip the booze and go for the homemade lemonade option instead.

                    2. I went to Franco Manca for the third time today and it REALLY came into its own. #2 with ricotta, mozzarella, chorizo, etc was incredibly good and it was perfectly cooked. I was beyond pleased with it and I would go back for just that pie, but the mozzarella still had an off texture. I actually talked to the owner Giovanni for a bit (he was friends with the other guy at the table.) Apart from being absolutely hilarious, he actually agreed with me about the mozzarella! He says they get it from a UK supplier and that the ricotta is amazing (I agreed) but the mozzarella just isn't "Italian" as he put it.


                      The lemonade's pretty nice as well, but I managed to finish mine in seconds.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: JFores

                        Been following these comments for a while and, J, you deserve to be praised for your determination and perseverance.
                        It's as if you were willing this place to impress! Many would have given up before you, I'm sure...

                          1. re: food.snob

                            I need a pizza source! Also, I couldn't see THAT many people being so off about something. The place has it's issues, but as long as they iron them out and don't sell into the crowds then it should be a great spot for years.