As Robin Leach once said, “In Italy, they add work and life, onto food and wine” – now THAT’S a philosophy a girl can get behind. We had been invited to an exclusive press evening, complete with pizza making and wine tasting, at the newly opened ‘Franco Manca’ – don’t mind if I do!
Located in the once Debenhams menswear department is the new and shiny ‘Franco Manca’ the new ‘it’ pizza joint. Gone are the stacks of woolen jumpers and colour-coordinated socks and in its place are pendant lights, rustic wooden tables and industrial shelves filled with organic wine, chopped tomatoes and pickled artichokes. We scanned the room, our attention immediately being grabbed by their open kitchen. Three chefs were busily working away in front of a gargantuan stone pizza oven, a whirlwind of fast moving hands, flying dough and flour merged into one awe-inspiring vision. “Apperol Spritz?” came a voice from behind, a voice that was attached to a cheery looking man with a cocktail in the hand of an outstretched arm – well, when in Rome.
A slug of delicious cocktail and an olive or two later our pizza maestro – Executive Chef ‘Alfonso Marseglia’ – popped up from behind the bustling hot plate. Adorned with a warming smile and a lulling Italian accident, he instantly made us feel at home, if not somewhat in awe. One by one Alfonso lead us into the kitchen to make our very own pizzas, sharing secret hints and tips along the way, all of which washed over me like that 3rd cocktail I’d had. But despite a fear of shaming myself in front of the pros (and some minor inebriation – thank you bar team) I had such a fantastic time and my horizons had been broadened to a new and exciting way to make pizza.
If you don’t know already, the theme is ‘sourdough pizza’. The key ingredient (in addition to talented chefs and insatiable passion) to making their dough is a live ingredient know to bakers as ‘Fresh Starter’; a porridge like substance containing organic flour, salt and cool or tepid water (depending on the room’s temperature). This is no simple task; this mixture is then left to prove for a couple of days, with regular supervision and feeding. The live (good) bacteria in this blend are what give their dough that signature flavour and wonderful elasticity. It has to be tried to be believed, but for me Franco Manca make the best pizza dough around. Having thoroughly embarrassed myself in the kitchen it was time to sit down and let the professionals
do their thing.
Despite today’s set feast, we took the opportunity to glance over their menu for future reference. To my surprise their staple menu consists only of 6 pizzas, with the addition of some daily specials too. I flipped by placemat menu over to reveal a list of ingredients complete with origin, qualities and a ton of information on the seasonal produce that they use. These guys are diligent when it comes to their food philosophy. No aspect of their menu is left to chance. The culinary masterminds behind the brand spend a lot of time finding the best possible ingredients to top their signature dough. Never was this more evident then when taking my first bite of cured organic choritzo (No.6 on their menu), when the complex smokiness and rich meaty flavour totally took me by surprise. Paired with a sweep of tomato base and sparing amounts of Somerset mozzarella, each ingredient stood out on it’s own, whilst at the same time unifying in an explosion of complimentary flavours. In addition to this delicate meat feast, I also had the opportunity of trying their signature courgette pizza. Unlike most pizza’s this was without a tomato base, instead a creamy cheese enhanced sauce, topped with lashings of chargrilled courgette and yet more cheese – ricotta and parmesan – finished with a sprinkle of fresh basil, made for a seriously tasty, alternative pizza.
Our experience was made complete with a wine tasting session, held by sommelier Francesco Cali. Much like the food, the drinks list is rich with organic, handpicked goodies. Two absolute must-tries include a deep rose (delivered straight from Francesco Cirelli’s organic farm in Italy) and an exciting and alternative sparkling red, the ‘Lambrusco (Grasparossa di Castelvetro)’.
I could go on and on about this incredible chain. Their dedication to quality produce, along with a shared passion among all staff, makes this pizza place by far the best around.
By Charlotte Williams
t. 01202 022068
a. Franco Manca @ Debenhams – The Square, Bournemouth BH2 5LY