There has been a long delay between my last post and this one – exploring New York has been getting in the way! I am tidying my notes on my visit and will be posting on that soon, but in the meantime I thought I’d post something about my home city…
I think I must have written at least twice before how much I love pizza, how I could eat it every day etc. So I won’t say any more about that. What I will say is that London is a wondrous place, and living in it a real joy – apart from the cost, pollution, rush etc. Anyway. Apart from that, London’s diversity means that its inhabitants are lucky enough to be able to sample pretty much any type of cuisine from anywhere in the world for the mere price of a Tube journey, some aggravation as you get stuck on the escalator behind a tourist who doesn’t know you stand on the right and walk on the left, and a squash as you walk on the pavement. Or some traffic if you choose to drive. I’ll still take that over a flight to somewhere in the world.
In recent years, an influx of Italians – particularly from Naples – has meant that authentic, Napoli pizza is now readily available all over London; moreover, its presence has given the pizza market a shake-up as ubiquitous pizza chains like Pizza Express and Strada – once the places to go for decent pizza – have now been relegated to another league altogether to make way for pizzerias who focus on quality ingredients and traditional Italian cooking methods to get the best pizza. Furthermore, having eaten pizza in Italy, London, and New York, London has the advantage of offering the best value for money in a cosmopolitan mega-city – probably the result of intense competition from the numerous Italian pizzerias around. A Margherita at any of the best places costs around £7 on average. To eat the same pizza in New York currently costs twice as much – in New York, a Margherita is no less than $15, without tax – and the pizzas are definitely not twice as good. So in terms of Pizza Cities, London is probably the best place outside of Italy. For more on the best pizza in New York, check out my blog post here.
Here is my summary of the best pizza places in London to date. New pizzerias are always opening (there’s already a new place in my neighbourhood I want to check out as soon as I’m back!). Of course, these reviews are in light of my personal preferences: I love a traditional Neapolitan base – chewy, light, airy – with a nice crust to end the slice (as opposed to edge-to-edge toppings); a rich, flavoursome tomato sauce; a generous amount of creamy bufala mozzarella, but not too much. The base should be able to support the toppings without getting soggy, but not be too crisp; you should be able to cut the pizza with ease even as it gets cold, so no tables have to shake and no glasses need to fall as you’re eating.
Here’s the best London has to offer…
1. Princi (135 Wardour Street, London W1F 0UD)
Food: 5/5; Service 5/5; Value for money 5/5; Atmosphere 4/5
Standard Margherita costs: £5.50 (and it’s amazing)
One of the one few instances where it’s worth battling through the tourists to get a table. I love Princi, and I’ll confess that whenever I have eaten a pizza elsewhere, I use the Princi Margherita as the benchmark to assess it. Outside of Italy, nowhere has beaten it so far.
Located on one of the busiest streets in the heart of Soho, Princi is never quiet. This London outpost is far more appealing than its original Milan locations, which seem to be just croissant and coffee stops. This place, on the other hand, is an anytime destination, typically open from 8am until 11.30pm daily (check its website for specific hours). It is always bustling and busy inside, and I personally would think twice about going on a Friday or Saturday evening, unless your hot date insists on it and is willing to queue while you browse in Paul A Young nearby. I enjoy the lively atmosphere, but it can get a bit too noisy sometimes, hence 4/5 stars.
It is an eatery of two halves: the buffet style pay-at-the-counter restaurant, offering focaccia by the slice, salads, hot tray dishes like lasagna, and foodporn-worthy desserts, is straight ahead, and the pizzeria is to your left as you enter. I have only had dessert from the counter service, because I come for the stellar pizza from the pizzeria. As you are led to your table, you walk past the cooking space and wood fired oven where the pizzaolos are continually twirling, shaping, topping and cooking the pizzas.
The service is excellent, although you may need to flag attention on a busy evening. The pizza menu is fairly short, but the standout item for me is the standard Margherita for £5.50. Yes, £5.50. Real Italian pizza, in the heart of one of the most expensive areas in one of the most expensive cities in the world. That’s cheaper than a pizza from Franco Manca, marginally more expensive than a toastie from Pret, and miles better than both (and it beats New York hands down in terms of value for money – there is nothing like this to be found in the City). The base is perfectly crisp but light, with a nice fluffy crust; the tomato sauce flavoursome; the mozzarella, although not bufala, still creamy and just the right amount. Even my brother, who likes the greasiest, cheesiest pizzas around, was impressed by this. The other pizzas on their menu are around the £11-13 mark, which is still competitive.
I once bought another £5 Margherita pizza from another place in Soho (La Porchetta on Old Compton Street), and was so disappointed with it (too greasy, too bland, too much low grade cheese, I’d rather not think about it – but my brother didn’t mind it when I took it home for him) that I abandoned it and marched straight into Princi and ordered one of theirs. The guy who seated me took one look at the sorry box in my hand, and when I explained what had happened, said ‘you should just come straight to us next time’. I did.
2. Fratelli La Bufala (various locations, including Piccadilly Circus, but the best one is on Edgware Road, W2, away from the tourist trail)
Food: 4/5; Service 5/5; Value for money 4/5; Atmosphere 4/5
Standard Margherita costs: £9 (from memory, need to double check!)
I have no idea why this chain doesn’t feature in other top pizza lists. Having taken a quick look at other reviews, the rating is average, and is mostly based on dining at the Shaftesbury Avenue branch. I have only ever tried the branch on Edgware Road (the most recent one), and it could be that the other branches are not as good because of their location – tourist spots, high footfall, not as much attention to the quality of each dish (which is not an excuse if it is true), but every time I have been to this branch I have been impressed. The Edgware Road branch is the only one which serves halal meat (with some exceptions – I’d advise calling ahead and asking), and serves pizza, pasta, and meat dishes like buffalo and beef steak. I have been when it’s quiet and when it’s busier, and I loved the pizza I had on my first visit (Margherita – crisp, light base, flavoursome, good amount of cheese), and the mixed grill platter on my second visit was also decent, although it’s not the best meat I’ve had. The prices are average for London – the Margherita was £9, the mixed grill platter £25 – but if you want a real bargain, get a lunchtime mini pizza for £3 (see photo bottom right – takeaway only, Edgware Road branch only). It’s cheaper than most sandwiches, and far better.
3. Homeslice (13 Neal’s Yard, London WC2H 9DP – branches also in Fitzrovia and Shoreditch)
Food: 4/5; Service 5/5; Value for money 3.5/5; Atmosphere 4/5
Standard Margherita costs: £4 slice/£20 whole pie
I wouldn’t say this is authentic Napoli pizza, but it’s pretty damn good pizza nonetheless. The USPs are the size (20 inch pies for £20, flat rate for all pizzas); the fact that they do slices as well (£4 a slice); and adventurous toppings, which they can do half-half for you if you can’t decide between two. They will have daily/weekly specials, but my favourite of their regular pizzas are the margherita, and the mushroom, ricotta, pumpkin seed and chilli, which is just delicious. The slices are a bit steep at £4, even that despite the size you will demolish it in seconds (the size is deceptive: the pizzas are super light because of the thin base), but the large pizzas work out at decent value for two or more people sharing. You can do eat in or takeaway – there’s often a queue for eating in, but the line tends to move quickly. The staff are friendly and efficient.
4. Sacro Cuore (45 Chamberlayne Road, London NW10 3NB)
Food: 3/5; Service 4/5; Value for money 3.5/5; Atmosphere 3/5
Standard Margherita costs: £7.95
Some of the reviews about this place are really negative, but I have never had bad service there. The only pizza I really love there is the Tartufata – it’s amazing – but the downside is the base tends to be soggy. However, the flavour of the mushroom and truffle in the Tartufata just about compensates for the base, and is not dissimilar to the ‘Emily’ pizza from beloved Brooklyn pizzeria Emily. When it’s full (which is pretty much every time I’ve been there), it is noisy and difficult to be heard over the cacophony, so the atmosphere is not great if you want to speak to your companion/s and be heard. The pizzas range north of £10, which is average, but I would love the base to be crisper for this to fully deserve the price you pay for it.
And some other decent places which aren’t quite my favourite:
Franco Manca (several locations, check website)
Standard Margherita costs: £5.90
I like that Franco Manca is reasonably priced: the Margherita is £5.90, the pizzas with toppings around £8. I like that Franco Manca’s pizza bases are light, fluffy and chewy, thanks to the sourdough. I don’t like that the bases are often soggy: my takeaway box is often wet from tomato sauce which has soaked through the base. I also don’t like that my Margherita often doesn’t have much cheese on it – it’s not much of a Margherita without cheese. Still, it’s a sign that Kilburn has arrived (or is still arriving) that we now have one on the high street. Some say that the best one is the original one in Brixton Market, and the environment definitely makes it more unique, but I’d say they’re all about the same. The one in Stratford Westfield will offer halal meat (chicken and sometimes, if you’re lucky, lamb – the spicy lamb pizza is good), so ask if that is what you’re after.
Pizza Pilgrims (several locations, check website)
Standard Margherita costs: £6.75
I haven’t been here in a while, but I remember a light, fluffy, charmingly non-circular base and decent toppings. I also remember there being better, but it’s still decent, and I am thinking as I write this that I need to try them again. They appear in several ‘best pizza’ lists so I thought it would be worth making mention of them here.
Bianco 43 (branches in Trafalgar Square, Blackheath, Croydon, Greenwich)
Standard Margherita costs: £7.95
A friend recommended this small chain of pizzerias to me: her husband is half Italian, and he swears that this is the most authentic Italian pizza to be found in London. I have only been to the Trafalgar Square branch (almost right next to Charing Cross station), and unlike Princi and other more well-known pizza places it has always been quiet and easy to get a table – the bonus of being a hidden secret. I have chosen quite fussy pizzas when I’ve been there, and almost wish I hadn’t – I would like to try their simple Margherita (£7.90) for a real comparison of how it holds up against its more popular competitors. I enjoyed their pizza, though, and would definitely go back if I was in the area – note that the more elaborate pizzas cost up to £16.
Rossopomodoro (branches nationwide)
Standard Margherita costs: £7.90
The pizzas here are decent and probably the best of the more ubiquitous pizza chains – there are now several of these across London. Last time I checked, the one hidden in John Lewis on Oxford Street offered a Margherita for £5.50 after 3pm (standard price £7.95), and the one in the O2 Centre on Finchley Road (the Swiss Cottage branch) was offering 20% off your eat in bill. Their website is currently advertising a two-course lunch for £9.95 at almost all of its branches.
UPDATE: Since publishing this post, I have also tried the pizza at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele – click on link for my review. I have also tried the pizza at Il Quartieri, and posted a quick and dirty Instareview on Instagram – check it out on @birdflyingsolo, or by scrolling through the Instagram images on my homepage.