So, after all the reviews of Franco Manca I decided a couple of days ago to make the 150 mile round trip to check it out. I should say that I had never had this style of pizza before, but I had bought the two Italian starters and had experimented with them. So I was particularly interested in the sourness (or otherwise) of the dough. My own attempts at bread making using these starters resulted in loaves that were too sour for my own taste, but my father loved this sourness and he is now a weekly baker using these starters.
My visit was twofold since I am seriously considering open a pizzeria. I therefore wanted to check on the business model employed. Since my visit wasn't totally positive, I had decided not to post my thoughts. But then the poster above is also interested in the business side of Franco Manca, and when a master chef from Bloomberg.com can give the pizza 11 out of 10, it matters little what a guy like me thinks.
The shop is located in a small indoor shopping arcade off of the famous Electric Avenue. It is only open from 12 - 5 pm. It occupies two shops, with the two shops opposite each other separated by about 10 feet. It appears that there is a bakery above the shop where the pizza dough is prepared, but I was wondering whether they also make loaves there too. It brought a wry smile to my face observer one baker struggling to handle some extremely wet dough. I've been there bro! I would imagine the rent is extremely low. An adjacent fish seller did not have a single customer in the 45 minutes that I was there.
Since it was my first time there I did not choose a good seat, and was unable to watch the pizzas being loaded into the oven. I got there about 20 minutes after opening and there were about 8 other people there. By the time I left there were about 30 customers, with more arriving all the time. I would imagine from 1pm it is full (50 seats?). I had to share my table, no big deal.
I ordered as soon as I sat down, choosing the chorizo pizza with the homemade lemonade. Lemonade (which was delicious) arrived straight away. Unfortunately the pizza didn't. And it still didn't arrive for more than 15 minutes. I was more than a little annoyed at this but having read Anthony Bourdain, knew that you should never complain in a restaurant. If you were one of the customers arriving after 1pm, I wonder how long you would have waited?
The pizza arrives and looks exactly like in the pictures above, only with chorizo. There was surprisingly no hint of sourness in the extremely light dough which, as expected, you need a knife and fork to eat. In retrospect it was a mistake to order the chorizo. It was strong tasting and dominated the pizza. I should have started with a simple cheese and tomato pie.
Now for the charring. This was the first time I had eaten a pizza that had such charring in the lip of the pizza. I had frequently read that this adds to the taste of the dough. Not in my opinion. Mouthfuls of pizza would frequently be dominated by a taste of burnt dough. This is all about personal tastes and you may like this particular taste. But for people with tastes like mine the problem is that in a relatively small pizza (12 inches?) if you choose to leave the burnt bits, there isn't much left to eat.
This style of pizza isn't for me, nor is it for the blue-collar market that I hope to open a pizzeria in. But in London it is clearly a winner, and the owner is producing a pizza that is the best of its type.
A final thought on the business side. I counted 3 waitresses, 1 pizza loader, 1 overseer, and there might have been one (or two) others helping the pizza loader. It seemed to me excessively labor intensive for a business that can only generate income for 5 hours. But with an extremely impressive reputation (even my sister had heard of this place and she knows nothing about pizzas), I would imagine the owner is now in a position to open in a more conventional (and expensive!) location.