Tom and I were invited to a special sourdough pizza masterclass last month to celebrate the opening of Franco Manca Oxford. You can easily find the restaurant as there is always a selection of couples, students and families forming an orderly queue outside to get in.
This Thursday the restaurant was packed, with tables spilling over into the gangways as friends crowded round to tuck into some almighty pizzas. It immediately threw me back to 2001, when the Friend family went to discover our Italian ancestry in Tuscany and quickly found our favourite pizzeria near Loro Chuffenia. We were the only Brits that year, doing our best to decipher a menu in a place packed with locals. Did you know we’re descended from Italian gelato connoisseurs?
In Oxford, the Italian chefs shout across the hubbub at waiting staff desperately attempting to get pizzas out from the floured benches to feed many hungry mouths. Our masterclass took over one corner with three long tables filled with foodies enthusiasts with salivating taste buds. We were a touch late, so we squeezed on the end of a table – luckily for us the wine tasting.
Our guide, the buyer for the restaurant, shared his favourites. Tom’s was definitely the biodynamic Folicello Il Rosso, Lambrusco Emilia – a sparkling red.
The founder of Franco Manca believes that good pizza needs to be made with good ingredients. The first restaurant opened in Brixton Market in 2008 and was named after an institutional pizzeria from the late eighties, called Franco, owned by Franco Pensa. The founders named the restaurant Franco Manca – ‘Manca’ a common Italian surname and which also means ‘missing’. So Franco Manca means ‘missing Franco’ or ‘Franco is missing.’
The first restaurant included a wood oven built by a Neapolitan artisan, Mastro Ciccio and the restaurant trained local British producers to make their own mozzarella with Albino Scalizzitti, an artisan cheese maker from the Molise region in Italy. With each restaurant opening, the team at Franco Manca, they aim to wipe out any memory of second-rate pizza you may have been unfortunate to consume from chain or supermarket. They succeed exceptionally well.