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Why London is the European Capital of Neapolitan Pizza

a small Naples in the Big City, we selected 10 Pizza Places to try also.

Column by Giuseppe A. D'Angelo — 11 months ago

When I arrived in London seven years ago (2012), the Neapolitan pizza was just like a vague mirage. We were at the beginning of its establishment, with a handful of good locations where to eat it. But it only took a couple of years for things to get going, and I had the chance to personally live that period that at the time I called “the rise of the Neapolitan pizza”, with the opening of several good pizzerias. Well, that era belongs to the past, because nowadays I can undoubtedly say that, outside the Italian borders, London is the true capital of the Neapolitan pizza in Europe.

Today we are living a phase where the city offers a variety of choices very similar to the one we can have in Naples and its province. This is exactly the spirit which I’m going to keep in outlining here my view of the Neapolitan pizzerias in London: not a list of “best pizzas”, but kind of a tasting journey among the different types, and at the same time a chronicle of the growth of the pizza places in this city. To the ones I didn’t include in this list: please, don’t take it personally, I can’t be that thorough in this circumstance.

The Pioneers

In the beginning, there was Santa Maria in Ealing. Actually, that wasn’t really the first. I should mention some other pizza places that even way more back in the days have set some milestones (worth to mention Franco Manca in Brixton, although they followed a different path).
Yet, Santa Maria deserves the credit of putting to the attention of Londoners a true and authentic product, managing with just a small joint of 20 seats to move masses of people towards a residential suburb at the borders of zone 3… In short, very far away from the centre. The two owners, Pasquale Chioncio and Angelo Ambrosio, have also been quite clever in creating a marketing campaign for their brand reputation, beside their loyal customer base. And in few years, they managed to get closer to the centre with the opening of two more venues (and a fourth arriving soon). With an eye to the tradition, but without renouncing to new experimentations, as the new dough made with a blend of wholegrain flours testifies.

Santa Maria Ealing
Address: 15 St Mary’s Rd, Ealing, London W5 5RA
Go to the Pizzeria details

Others have the same level of seniority, but make smaller steps: Antica Pizzeria has always been a cornerstone in Hampstead, posh district in the north of London. The wood-fired oven with the sign “Fatte ‘na pizza” (have a pizza, in Neapolitan language) it’s the symbol of the original venue which is still small and crowded like in the beginnings. But last year they opened a new restaurant in Barnet dedicated to a wider clientele, not just for pizza, but for an overall offer of the Italian gastronomy with main courses, a bar and a gelato shop.

Antica Pizzeria Hampstead
Address: 66 Heath St, London NW3 1DN
Go to the Pizzeria details

The Tradition

The first type of pizza that managed to leave a mark in London is very true to the tradition, like the ones you could have in the famous via dei Tribunali in Naples. The kind of pizza which is very large in size and with a small and thin crust. To eat this type of Pizza you should head to the south of London. In the Streatham district we find Bravi Ragazzi, a pizzeria founded by the Neapolitan rapper Luchè: small, basic, with very few seats, this place is a cornerstone in London, and has recently opened a second venue in Brooklyn, New York.

Bravi Ragazzi
Address: 2A Sunnyhill Rd, Streatham, London SW16 2UH
Go to the Pizzeria details

If we’re talking about connections with the motherland, we should go to pizzeria Pellone in Clapham (established on the grounds of a previous pizzeria also worth a mention, Made in South). Antonio Pellone comes from a pizzaioli family of Fuorigrotta, a Naples neighbourhood, and he follows the same style used by generations in his family: a large size pizza, with a thin crust, rich in toppings and very tasty. In short: authentic.

Pizzeria Pellone
Address: 42 Lavender Hill, Battersea, London SW11 5RL
Go to the Pizzeria details

STREET FOOD

A special credit has to be given to the one guy who brought the famous “pizza a portafoglio” (foldable pizza) in London: Silvestro Morlando. The blue Citroën Van H has become iconic in the Old Spitalfields market. The small sized pizza that can be folded on its side was a missing concept in the city, and now is synonymous with this lad from the Abruzzi region, who is madly in love with Naples. Although he abandoned the original concept and makes now proper pizzas of a regular size. But the original intent still remains: the street food, which is a strong trend in London. In the peak time the blue van it’s the one you can spot first in the market, not just for the colour, but also because is the one with the longest line.

Sud Italia
Address: Old Spitalfields Market, Brushfield St, London E1 6AA
Go to the Pizzeria details

Talking about street food there’s another important name to mention that we’ll see in the next paragraph…

Contemporary

Michele Pascarella is another pizzaiolo whose career in London started from the road. For years his Ape Piaggio, the famous Italian three-wheeled truck, has worked around different London farmers’ markets gaining success with his takeaway pizza. The fact the Michele comes from the city of Caserta is clear in his type of pizza, with a fluffy and large rim, which is nicknamed “canotto” (i.e. inflated raft). The dough, soft and light, is the outcome of an endless study on mix of flours, in the constant search of self-improvement. Michele has been on the road for a while, despite the notorious bad weather condition of the city. His path has been cautious and aimed at building his brand reputation: in the end, this attitude paid back, since he finally opened a brick and mortar pizzeria in an elegant area of Chiswick, and the restaurant has already proved successful after just a few weeks from the opening.

Napoli On The Road
Address: 9A Devonshire Rd, Chiswick, London W4 2EU
Telefono: +44 20 7062 5723
Go to the Pizzeria details

This kind of pizza has been defined in Italy “contemporary”, for its modern approach. But has not everything to do with the size of the crust. Another point in favour is the use of excellent toppings and their matching to provide different recipes from the usual “capricciosa”. This is the kind of approach you can find at Oi Vita in Canonbury, north of London: pizzaiolo Nicola Apicella and his business partner Matteo Speziale provide a menu that, beside a few types of traditional pizzas, span from a variety of combinations that tease more the taste buds of Londoners. A special attention is dedicated on vegetarian and vegan choices, which nowadays are so much important for a menu to be complete.

Oi Vita
Address: 67 Newington Green Rd, Mildmay Ward, London N1 4QU
Go to the Pizzeria details

Speaking of vegan… How not to mention the well reputed brand of Purezza, which in London has actually opened a second branch from the original pizzeria in Brighton. The actual term used by its owners, though, is “plant-pioneers”. All the toppings used, mostly home made, are in fact plant based. The head pizza chef is Filippo Rosato, who also use the “inflated” approach on his dough, characterized by a strong lightness and really digestible. His creative recipes will definitely break any prejudice you could have on the vegan cuisine.

Purezza Camden
Address: 43 Parkway, Camden Town, London NW1 7PN
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GOURMET

If I had to grant the (in)famous seal, I’d have no doubt: Bellillo is the real gourmet pizzeria in London. You can see it from their menu, which boasts an endless description of toppings. But, kidding aside, Salvatore Esposito and Francesco Vigna’s concept deserves a lot of respect: “from our lands to your hands”, their focus is the use of produces coming specifically from the Campania region. The same concept has been reproduced in Barcelona, and finally back in Naples: it’s quite peculiar that this venture has started and proceeded abroad before coming home.

Bellillo UK
Address: 255 Munster Rd, Fulham, London SW6 6BW
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This category should also mention the pizza made with sea water by Marino Bove for O’ Ver in Southwark (and recently, for a second branch opened in St James’s Market). The idea of using sea water in the dough is not new (one of his main promoters, famous pizza maker Guglielmo Vuolo, is actually been Marino’s mentor), but the menu of this pizzeria is quite sophisticated, and offers just a couple of traditional choices compared to other pizzas with less usual matchings. The elegant approach is also evident in a substantial wine list.

‘O Ver Borough
Address: 44-46 Southwark St, London SE1 1UN
Go to the Pizzeria details

What’s the future have in store?

The virality of the Neapolitan pizza in London is spreading on different levels. In the past, a good product was directly connected to the success of small independent pizzerias and their customer base, but now is largely more exposed. On one side, there’s a number of passionate people who learn this craft for their own personal pleasure, or because they see the chance of making some pocket money out of it. But on the other side, there are several investors who have spotted a good business and they’re pouring rivers of cash in the new openings.

In between, we have consultants that teach this craft to anyone that is willing to learn or improve their dough. But the pupils are not anymore just Italians, yet mostly locals. Meaning the Brits, or any other foreign individual that has permanently settled in UK. These new students have decided to embrace our culinary culture and don’t need anymore to pay for a flight to Naples for a pizza making course. The future is cosmopolitan, and this is already obvious from the names of pizzerias whose owners come from everywhere in the world: Wandercrust, Well Kneaded, Made of Dough… The italian sounding is not necessary anymore: the Neapolitan pizza had broke through the Tyrrhenian borders and imposed itself as a staple food in the European capital of gastronomy.

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