Tag Archive for: Naples

Let us salute fair Salina and Slaithwaite. The former, a volcanic Aeolian island reached by hydrofoil from Sicily, the latter a moorland mill town on the main line between Manchester and Leeds. Each has offered creative refuge to master pizzaiolos, who’ve helped shape the culinary landscape of toppings on dough.

The cases of Giuseppe Mascoli and Jim Morgan provide a romantic backdrop to the big business that pizza has become. This relatively affordable treat that, post-pandemic, prospers while other High Street rivals go under. 

Proof of the desirability of UK pizzeria chains is the expansion of the original Neapolitan-inspired destinations created by Amalfi Coast raised Giuseppe and Huddersfield Town fan Jim. Only last month shareholders in Franco Manca and sister brand The Real Greek (70 and 27 outlets respectively) approved a £93.4m takeover by a Japanese noodle conglomerate. Giuseppe had long extricated himself from the brand he created – ‘best pizza in London’ – to live the good life on Salina, making wine on the island he fell ion love with while sourcing the perfect capers for his burgeoning restaurants.

Meanwhile, since being taken over by hospitality operator Mission Mars (of Albert’s Schloss fame) Rudy’s has opened 17 sites across Britain. The latest, its sixth in Manchester where it all started, incorporates a pizza academy to stretch the skills of staff. In truth, I’d rather learn the secrets of ‘the one true pizza’ at the elbow of Jim in his smart new venture, Anello, in a converted library in Yorkshire’s Slaithwaite (pronounced Slow-it).

It’s all a far cry from the sensation back in 2005 when Giuseppe, a former LSE lecturer, took pizza back to its Neapolitan roots in the Afro-Caribbean enclave that was Brixton Market. Queues snaked around the block to get a slice of the authentic action. The key? A sourdough foundation naturally leavened for 24 hours under the watchful eye of baker friend Bridget Hugo. Ditto 10 years later in the new foodie frontier of Ancoats when Jim’s research pilgrimages to the pizza cafes off the Spaccanapoli finally paid off for him and pioneer partner Kate Wilson. Their shoestring project was named after their pet dog Rudy. Franco Manca’s monicker was equally quirky. Giuseppe took over the original 1986 business from one Franco, honouring him in perpetuity. ‘Manca’ in Italian means missing.

So does the pair’s purist pizza legacy linger on?

Franco Manca

It’s so easy to yell ‘sell-out’ or ‘pale shadow’ as a treasured one-off becomes ostensibly more corporate. Franco Manca, with three outlets in Manchester, certainly talks the talk still, emphasising the scrupulous attention to sourcing, the long proving (ie rising) of the dough in-house each day, even focusing the brief wine list on organic production.

I’d not been to the King Street branch before one gusty, wet Manchester lunchtime at odds with the searing inferno of the ‘Old Country’ currently. The welcome was as warm as the decor. Prices, even of specials on the boards, were eminently reasonable, one of the great selling points in London. 

Contrast with L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele (self-proclaimed world’s best pizza) 60 metres away across the Cross Street tramlines. I’ve not been back since it made its grand entrance 18 months ago, but the experience was odd – service wobbly, setting eye-numbingly neon and prices high (even though the pizza quality was decent). Da Michele had become a global brand, from the humble yet Instagrammable original in Naples that had inspired Jim Morgan in his quest.  Still it may have learned its lesson. I’ve just checked the latest menu and the cost of a Margherita that was then £9.95 has now been reduced to a fiver.

What does strike you immediately at Franco Manca is the menu avoids the classic  pizza names – Margherita, Marinara, Cappriciosa and the like. Instead they are numbered 1 to 10. It mirrors an eclectic attitude to provenance. The Pivetti organic 00 flour may hail from near Bologna, tomatoes from Campania and Salina supplies benchmark capers, but the MSC certified tuna and the anchovies are sourced from Cantabria in Northern Spain, while the mozzarella still comes from Somerset. Why? Because Giuseppe (the opposite of sloppy in his thinking) persuaded his friend Albino Scalzitti to move there from the southern Italian Apennines to ensure a fresher supply line. Somerset’s native Ogleshield and Montgomery’s Cheddar also feature on the same shopping list, but no English wines. In the trademark tumblers Italy rules.

Giuseppe’s main legacy remains the sourdough starter. Acquired from a Naples bakery, its wild yeast-driven magic dates back to the 18th century. In contrast we were there to road test the very latest pizzas on the Franco Manca menu. Hearty starters of beef ragù al forno with mozzarella and aubergine parmigiana were buttresses against that traitor of a summer day outside, but the pizzas were the going to be the acid test. They actually do one with a ragù topping, which is as wrong as pineapple.

We both chose pizzas without any tomato involved. Mine (No.10 for £10.95) had an undertow of wild broccoli pesto. Cime di rapa? Friarelli? Or Calabrese? I should have asked. On top of this came mozzarella and grana padano cheese with a substantial crumbling of fennel sausage. The latter was rather lovely but my on a whim extra topping of nduja was a bad idea. The famed base had that billowing chewiness I expected and liked, but as the cheese cooled it all felt a touch congealed.

Pizza No.9 across the table was the true triumph of the visit. a glorious £11.25 worth. Mozzarella, fresh basil, wild mushrooms and burrata all given an earthy kick by a truffle pesto base. Big flavours but a herby Sicilian Syrah held its own beautifully. Overall a fine experience. Fingers crossed this admirable brand has fallen into safe hands.

Franco Manca, 37-43 King St, Manchester M2 7AT. There are also branches in the city in Piccadilly Gardens and at the Trafford Centre. Open every day.


Slaithwaite has always meant dough to me over the past few years. The town’s Handmade Bakery has been a key foodie pioneer as a townscape of industrial dereliction has transformed into one of those Sunday Times’ Coolest Places To Live. You can commute in either direction to Leeds or Manchester, albeit subject to the unfit for purpose vagaries of Transpennine Express. For Jim Morgan, whose dad had ties with Handmade, it was a case of coming home. On our visit Kate was absent – on childcare duties. Otherwise, it all felt like Rudy’s 2023. With new strings to their bow on the way. As well as acquiring a talented chef, Tom McManus, from the sadly missed Moorcock across the hills they have also taken that gastropub’s epic outside grill.

They are setting this up a mile and half down the A62 at their mates Zapato Brewery, who provide Anello’s crisp house table beer, Pinto de Pico. Tom was away on holiday in Greece when we dropped into what feels almost like an Ancoats out-rider. You can feel his influence on a range of small plates that complement the Marinaras and Margheritas emerging from the truly serious pizza oven. Cue picture of a lad wielding long paddle.

As you’d expect they source leaves and veg from a local plot and the organic flour is from Shipton Mill, but tomatoes and fior di latte mozzarella are imported from Campania. Arancini was splendid but an £11 dish of porchetta disappointed, not least because the broad beans hadn’t been double-podded.

The pizzas? Marvellous. Not least because of that slow-raised dough. More echt Neapolitan than Franco Manca’s, softer and more digestible. The toppings were more traditional but then Anello, like the original Rudy’s, doesn’t aim to re-invent  the wheel. Just replicate the perfection of Old Naples.

Their pizza oven was built for them in that turbulent city – by the Acunto family, who have a history of making pizza ovens stretching back 125 years. According to Jim: “Once fired up to 450C, the pizza takes just 60 seconds to cook. This intensity and speed of cooking creates a wonderful freshness to the pizza with enticing aromas, flavourful charring and a tenderness to the dough unusual with other types of pizza.” 

Agreed. So to all those renegade purveyors of Roman, New York, Detroit, Chicago  and, abomination, Hawaiian Pizza there’s a Neapolitan expression especially for you: “Vafanapoli! (ps it’s very rude).

Anello, 8 Britannia Road, Slaithwaite, Huddersfield HD7 5HG, 01484 841720, Open Wednesday to Sunday.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m not gonna be slinging pizza for the rest of my life.” Little did Julia Roberts realise in her movie breakthrough, 1988’s Mystic Pizza, that that line might come back to haunt her. Flash forward to Manchester 2022 and you’ll find the veteran Hollywood star up in lights at the city’s latest topped dough emporium, L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele

A bit of a mouthful to follow Zizzi – the previous Italian incarnation squatting in this palatial Edwardian bank building – but then so is the Napoletana in front of me. A huge and hugely satisfying mouthful from a springy, chewy base to an intense but measured topping of tomato, basil, Agerola fior di latte, Cetar anchovies, capers and oregano. ‘The greatest pizza in the world’ as the Da Michelebrand pushers proclaim? Up there, maybe, but it was rapidly cooling as it arrived at table from a distant oven and stone cold by half way through. That wouldn’t have been acceptable back in Naples, where the original pizzeria of this name has forged its reputation against fierce competition for over 130 years. 

Matt Goulding, in his fascinating exploration of Italian cuisine, Pasta, Pane, Vino, details the competitive zeal of the city’s pizzaioli and their commitment to their way of making arguably the world’s finest fast food. 

And there is an argument, as he writes: “Neapolitan pizza may be the original form of pizza  as we know it today, but for some – for those who like their pizza with textural contrast, who don’t consider pizza a knife and fork proposition – it doesn’t always deliver. Neapolitan pizza can be a violent enterprise – the high temperatures, the aggressive blistering, the miasma of cheese and sauce and rendered fat that leaves the centre of a pizza almost empty. The resulting pizza is relentlessly soft, yielding, fickle, unforgiving. It is a game of centimetres and seconds – the difference between a subpar pizza and a superlative one is a blink of an eye in the mouth of the oven.”

Julia Roberts only entered the Da Michele story just over a decade ago when she reprised her pizza schtick, starring in Eat Pray Love as globe-trotting seeker after self Elizabeth Gilbert, who falls head over heels for the modest restaurant on the Via Cesare Sersale, declaring she was “having a relationship with her pizza.” This someway explains critic Mark Kermode’s four word summary of the movie: “Eat, Pray, Love, vomit”.

On a wall of the new King Street branch a golden scrawl of the film’s title shares billing with a still of Julia scoffing a slice and there’s also further gush in pink neon: “I want someone to look at me the same way I look at pizza”, which is not up there with my fave doughy quote: “The perfect lover is one who turns into a pizza at 4am.”

All of which diverts from the big da Michele question: Why here, now?

I saw ample evidence on a trip to Naples of how popular the original is, with its strong local fanbase bolstered by the tourist traffic generated by Gilbert’s book and the film. You have to book a slot to gain entrance to a very basic venue. Averse to queuing, I surveyed the gathering crowds from across the square as I enjoyed a Margherita in theatrically themed rival Trianon da Ciro. It was excellent, only bettered by the plate overlapping monster at De Matteo on the Via dei Tribunali. 

At all three venues you’d pay around six euros for a classic Margherita; in Manchester they charge £9.90 for this basic topping of tomato, basil and mozzarella, rising to nearly double that price for more elaborate toppings. No pizzas at Manchester’s acclaimed Rudy’s cost over a tenner, while their cocktails are each three quid cheaper that at Da Michele, where for six quid you get just the one arancino as a starter (we asked).

My Napoletana, generously topped though it was, felt steep at £12.90. Not as steep as the accompanying 250ml glass of (excellent) Badioli Chianti Riserva for £15.90, which I estimate is a 400 per cent mark-up on store prices. 

Strangely, when I sought to double check our bill the online menu didn’t run to prices. I wanted to register how much the wagyu steaks cost as well as the pastas, salads and desserts that join the 13-strong pizza roster that climaxes in a wagyu burger version. Above are dishes of tuna tartare and truffle ravioli, both pretty dishes but they scream Italian restaurant staple grafted onto the original Da Michele selling point

In the Naples restaurant they have proudly served only two types of pizza – Margherita and Marinara (the one without the cheese). 

The decision to expand the brand globally has also vastly expanded the menu. A constant among the pizzas is a predominant use of Agerola fior di latte cow’s milk mozzarella and soy bean oil over buffalo mozzarella and olive oil. Was this the formula from the start, five generations ago? The leavening and kneading nous created by Michele Condurro has surely never been tampered with. 

My research shows me that the first L’Antica Pizzeria launched over here in Stoke Newington followed the two pizzas only template but that split to trade under a new name (and presumably new ownership) when branches in Soho and Baker Street appeared. All a bit vague. Neither setting comes near the high-ceilinged grandeur of 43 King Street, much of the current style inherited from the unlamented Zizzi but with some odd tweaks.

My eyes may have deceived me, but they appear to have replaced Zizzi’s dove grey upholstery with a dusty pink version. A more strident pink decor, in many swirling shades, helps the bar dominate the front of the room. Pink is definitely the colour of the moment in the city.

It’s good (in an ironic way) to see restaurant trees are making a comeback. Zizzi scatted some gaunt saplings scattered around the dining space but they have been replaced by two ‘flourishing’ white artificial specimens, which forge a kind of glitzy symmetry with the vast dangling chandelier. It almost makes up for the inexorable deforestation of Manchester’s restaurant scene. Long gone the giant steel tree of Sakana, so too the more modest shrub inside Mr Cooper’s House and Garden in the Midland Hotel refurb. Still indelibly etched into Spinningfield’s Tattu, though, is its colourful dried cherry blossom tree. That matches its pan-Asian cuisine. Olive trees might have been a more authentic fit for Da Michele. Or maybe not. 

This brand expansion, which includes the USA, all seems a case of spreading it a bit thin once again. Remember the one true Harry Ramsden in Guiseley or The Ivy in London’s theatreland before all the cloning began? Now everywhere. Or on a less iconic level, take the original indie Real Greek launching in Hoxton in 1999. We eventually got a chain version in Manchester last year, joining its corporate stablemate Franco Manca. That does pizza, too, and they’ve got rivals seemingly on every corner. Sourdough, New York style, Detroit, Chicago deep dish, vegan and all the rest (sadly now minu our homegrown stalwart, the original Croma). You takes yer pick. Never has choice felt more homogenised. 

It all makes me yearn for the formica tables of old Napoli, where the pizzas conform and the people don’t. To quote Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend: “The plebs were us. The plebs were that fight for food and wine, that quarrel over who should be served first and better, that dirty floor on which the waiters clattered back and forth, those increasingly vulgar toasts.” 

L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele, 53 King Street, Manchester M2 4LQ. 0161 204 7068.

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet novels were set in a gritty, poverty-stricken Fifties Naples still recovering from the War. I came later than most to the best-selling saga of Elena and Lila, then devoured its 550,000 words with all the gusto I had brought to road-testing the pizzas of that chaotic, hypnotic city. 

Seventy years ago, as now, an idyllic escape route was offered by the hour ferry ride across the Gulf to Ischia. It was on a moonlit beach there that Elena lost her virginity in The Story of a New Name. My solo visit to this 17-square mile island out in the Bay of Naples was less life-changing but quite unforgettable.

Ischia teems with other ghosts – cinematic, musical and literary. This volcanic outcrop of hot springs and mud treatments may lack the sheer chocolate box glamour of rival Capri, but what an exotic, sometimes louche, backdrop it has been to the lives of numerous creative mavericks.

Capri boasts homespun Gracie Fields; Ischia WH Auden, William Walton, Luchino Visconti and their luminous guests. OK, much of this celebrity action was back in the Fifties and Sixties, when it was not the developed tourist destination it is today. The same is true of so many Mediterranean boltholes, yet against the odds Ischia retains a special dolce vita allure.

It helps that it has acted as location for at least 30 movies. It also hosts two annual film festivals. I gasped when I first reached Ischia Ponte, the picturesque extension of the island’s capital, Ischia Porte, and gazed upon the iconic citadel, Castello Aragonese, rearing 300ft above the sea across its causeway. Instantly recognisable from film noir The Talented Mr Ripley, where Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow play out their sardonic, sun-kissed endgame.

Off-screen movie melodrama came to Ischia four decades before when Richard Burton and Liz Taylor conducted their very open and controversial public affair on the island during the filming of Cleopatra in 1962. At the Bar Mara Caffe Internazionale in Forio town there’s no recognition they were once visitors alongside a starry cast that included Charlie Chaplin, Sophia Loren, Ava Gardner, Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis.

The regular presence at Maria’s Cafe of great English poet Auden is marked by a framed photo with then owner Maria Senese, while other visitors have terrace tables named after them. I sipped a wheat beer with my legs under ‘Truman Capote’. Auden lived nearby in the summer with boyfriend Chester Kallman, forming a gay enclave that sometimes scandalised residents of this workaday port.

There is no trace left of the house they rented, so I pursued my quest for Ischia’s bohemian past by walking north along the coast back to my hilltop hotel base, San Montano Resort & Spa via two surviving monuments to artistic giants. It was a stiff climb up to the pine-clad Zaro promontory in the north east of the island that is home both to film director Luchino Visconti’s Moorish-style villa, La Colombaia (The Dovecot), and Oldham-born composer Sir William Walton’s world famous garden, La Mortella (The Myrtles).

La Colombaia, set deep in forested grounds, was rescued from a decade of neglect and relaunched as a museum and international school of film and theatre 20 years ago. In these difficult times the whole complex is closed, possibly for good. The ghosts remain. Here the rampantly bisexual director held open house. If walls could tell tales. When Aristotle Onassis ditched Mara Callas for Jackie Kennedy, here Visconti comforted Callas, who he had directed in La Traviata at La Scala. All three were his friends and frequent house guests.

A couple of miles away is a place with an altogether less turbulent past. The gardens of La Mortella were 50 years in the making. In 1958 Lady Susana Walton started transforming a quarry on the property her husband Sir William had bought, opening it to the public in 1991. Today, run by a private foundation, it is a spectacular sub-tropical and mediterranean garden featuring a working concert amphitheatre, a museum devoted to the composer (best known for Facade and Belshazzar’s Feast) and his pyramid-shaped tomb overlooking the sea. I liked the risque murals in the quasi pagan ‘Temple of the Sun’ and the world’s largest water lily, the gender-bending victoria amazonica, that flowers in the morning as a white petalled female and later in the day reopens as deep crimson petals and male organs. 

If you visit one attraction in Ischia, make it La Mortella, but note it is shut to the public from until April 2 2022. During the winter month the garden can be visited via a guided tour each Thursday. You must book in advance.

I was lucky it was an hour’s walk away from marvellous San Montano,which itself boasts a spectacular outlook in all directions. Down to its private beach 100m below or along the coast towards Ischia Porte. Perfect for sunrises and sunsets. My room with its own balcony shared these sublime vistas.

It is such a haven much of the clientele seemed happy to while away the afternoons around the fabulous pool complex or make full use of the light-filled Ocean Blue Spa with its hand-made Vietri tiles before dining in formal but relaxed style al fresco on the terrace. Dishes featuring plenty of fish, buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, salad and herbs offered a deft take on traditional local cuisine. The local produce is magnificent.

A dinner excursion down to Lacco Amena town was exciting, too. Here at the island’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, the Ristorante Indaco locally-born chef Pasquale Palamaro offers challenging tasting menus. It is situated in the L’Albergo della Regina Isabella, the only hotel on the island with its own beach – and a sense of a glorious celeb past. 

Both hotels have fabulous wine lists showcasing Campania on the mainland and Ischia’s own specific grape heritage. Key local producer is the acclaimed D’Ambra winery, which has championed varieties native to the island such as Biancolella, Forastera, and Rilla white varieties, and Piedirosso and Guarnaccia for reds.

I tasted the range in the company of Andrea d’Ambra, who is assisted in th winemaking these days by his daughters Marina and Sara, then went on a vertiginous car ride up  to the Frassitelli vineyard that is their pride and joy, four hectares clinging to a mountainside 600m up en route for Monte Epomeo, the slumbering volcano that dominates the island. Great walking all around, aided by a colour-coded footpath network.

Frassitelli, the flagship white produced here from Biancolella, also hits the heights. Peachy on the nose, it is piercingly fruity, with a hint of salt, on the palate. Visconti helped design distinctive labels for D’Ambra when they were finding their feet in markets beyond the island.

 Visible from the vineyards on the southern coast is Sant’Angelo, loveliest spot on the island. All whitewashed cubes and pricey boutiques and fish restaurants, it lies on an isthmus in the lee of a volcanic hump (they are everywhere – Lacco Amena has a tufa outcrop called Il Fungo because it resembles a mushroom. 

Here most of all on this lush, less developed side Ischia lives up to its sobriquet of the Emerald Isle. No cars or buses are allowed in Sant’Angelo, so it is a tranquil spot to people watch on the beach or grab a beer and a pizza.

I covered so much of the island on foot there was no time left to take to the hot springs. Those in the know recommend Negombo, which is next door to San Montano’s private beach. This ‘thermal garden’ covers 22 hectares with a variety of mineral baths, jacuzzi and Turkish bath. You buy a day pass. Probably a great place to relax and gather your strength before being ferried back from vibrant, villagey Ponte Ischia (below) to the urban maelstrom that is Naples.

Getting there

I flew into Naples and then travelled to Ischia by Alilauro hydrofoil on the 9th at 2.35pm (alt 3.30). Get there 45 minutes before and tell them you have luggage. Alilauro ticket office is at Molo Beverello (Napoli’s Port).

A version of this article first appeared on Manchester Confidential.