Summary: The original in Naples is excellent, but although it may share the name, this is definitely not the original
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, 125 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0UH
Food: 6/10 Atmosphere: 8/10 Service: 10/10 Value for money: 7/10 Recommend? No
I drove all night to get to you…actually, it wasn’t all night. But it was late at night, everything was sodden with non-stop rain, and I drove from nearly the other end of London to get to L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, because I could hold out no longer and I had to have my Napoli pizza, dammit.
For those who don’t know, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is one of the daddies of Napoli pizza in the home of pizza itself: having dined there myself on a recent visit to Naples (see related blog posts with full review here and about my visit here), I can confirm that the pizza is indeed excellent, and it is extremely popular there. So it’s very exciting that they’ve opened a branch in Stoke Newington, London. Since its opening in early February, the reviews have been headlined by one thing: queues. Be prepared to wait for up to 2 hours to get your taste of Naples, after having trekked to a part of north London which is a bit like that itchy patch in the middle of your back – you need to reach it but it’s a challenge.
Luckily, I went on a weeknight at about 10pm, after a shopping trip in central London. I parked up, sauntered in, and was seated and had my piping hot pizza in front of me within 10 minutes. (Maybe, 3 months after opening, some of the immediate post-opening hysteria has died down: I asked one of the staff when they were busiest, and she replied that weekends were super busy, but during the week was OK – you could be waiting up to 30 minutes for a table at peak dining times).
Choosing from the menu (see photo below right) was easy: like the original, there are only two options – margherita (£7.90) or marinara (£6.90). There is an additional option with each one, however: you can go for double mozzarella on your margherita (£9), or an extra large marinara (£7.90). I opted for the regular margherita.
A note on the ambience: it’s nice and cosy (see photo below left), a departure from the original which is functional and rather sterile. I got a nice window seat and was able to take in the whole restaurant to my left.
My fresh, hot pizza arrived, and like the Napoli original it was laughably massive, falling off the edges of my plate. It was literally double the length of my knife (see photo!). And I tucked in with gusto.
And I really wanted to love it. I just wanted to know that there was a genuine piece of bona fide Naples in London, where I could go and get my fix any time. But alas, it was not to be, and it pains me to write what follows. The crust was nice and light and the tomato sauce was tasty, but there was nowhere near enough cheese on the pizza – definitely less than the Napoli original (see photos) (and why do they make it an additional option to have the right amount of cheese on the pizza and call it a ‘double’ serving? It’s paying more to have what you should have had in the first place). But the real let down – ironically, given this was what I loved most about the original – was the base. It was noticeably sour in taste, so much so that I stopped and wondered what was in it. I pressed on because I was hungry, but I lost interest in eating the pizza about halfway through, because I just wasn’t really enjoying it. And that is a rare thing for me.
This seems to be a classic case of hype masking the reality. Yes, this shares the name of the great, original Napoli pizzeria, but the pizzas are definitely not the same. The London version is average, and I could not identify anything to set it apart from its competitors like Franco Manca, Rossopomodoro, etc. In fact, I think I would prefer the latter because of how odd the base tasted here. For me, Princi still offers the best pizza around, and at the best price (note that the pizzas they serve here do not have bufala mozzarella but fior di latte, like the standard margheritas at other pizzerias). On a positive note, the setting was very nice, and the service excellent.
And on a broader positive note, the fact that there are better options available in London is a big bonus for all of us, and means that my dream of London being an (imported) Pizza Capital of the world lives on (for my summary of the best pizzas in London, see my blog post here).
If you do try the pizza here, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you found it!