I don’t know what I was expecting in Naples, but Naples wasn’t it. The city is vibrant and teeming with people. Everyone has a small dog, and day and night, you see families strolling the streets together, window shopping (or just plain ole shopping), eating, drinking, and having that all important coffee. There are hills in Naples — steep ones! And it’s a city on the sea! And looming in the distance, there’s a VOLCANO! But most importantly, there is pizza and lots and lots of it. Excellent, excellent pizza, created carefully and with love by pizzaiolos who are often not the first person in their generation to knead the dough and make the sauce. I sort of fell in love — with the pizza AND Naples. And uh, the handsome pizzaiolos.
How did I find myself in Naples? I knew that Daniel Young, the former food critic of the New York Daily News, runs an occasional pizza tour to Naples. I also vaguely knew that he had written a book about pizza called, simply, Where to Eat Pizza. (I know now that this book is the BIBLE of pizza and both Daniel and his book are revered in pizza circles everywhere.) During a brief respite from work, I saw that Daniel had a few spaces free on an upcoming tour and before you know it, I had booked a place and my flight and I was GOING. Done!
I met up with the Daniel and the rest of the group at the Grand Hotel Parker’s, a grande dame of a hotel, towering on a hill above Naples and with a lovely terrace overlooking the sea. The hotel is set to be renovated soon, but I hope they don’t change the marble floors in the public spaces or the crystal chandeliers in the hotel rooms because hotels like this don’t exist anymore.
Enzo Coccia, outside La Notizia, pretending to deliver pizza old school style
We taxied over to our first stop, La Notizia, run by the intensely intense Enzo Coccia, who talked us through the history of pizza and Naples, fed us what felt like 20 pizzas, and then put us to work kneading dough. Kneading dough is not easy, trust me. It requires a tremendous amount of upper body strength and forearm power. Let’s just say I quickly decided that I enjoy eating pizza more than making it myself, but it gave me a new appreciation for pizzaiolos everywhere.
I liked the vibe at La Notizia. It felt like a neighborhood restaurant that would be happy to see you, whenever you walked through the door. This was confirmed by one of our taxi drivers, who explained that he often makes a special trip to La Notizia, just to eat the pizza.
Later that evening, once we had digested a bit, we headed over to 50 Kalo, a pizza joint with a more modern interior design scheme — it was almost as if they were trying to say “This is not a pizza joint.” Even though it is. Here we tried the standard Naples pizza configurations and then a few more creative options. (50 Kalo probably served us the most creative options of our tour, but this may have been more about how they treated our group than the menus at any of the places.)
Ciro Salvo at 50 Kalo
The restaurant was empty when we entered at 7 pm but there was a queue out the door by the time we left — a queue of all generations, a testament to the popularity of pizza AND 50 Kalo. 50 Kalo’s owner and pizzaiolo, the movie star handsome Ciro Salvo is, well, movie star handsome and a third generation pizzaiolo. Let’s just say that he can make me pizza anytime.
I probably ate more pizza this day than I have in the past three year combined — always watching the carbs, my friends — but I didn’t feel that heavy fullness that I get from a New York pizza or (certainly) a Chicago pizza. Pizza in Naples is lighter and airier. The goal seems to be “How can we make this crust as thin as possible, but still hold all this cheese and sauce?” This is the type of goal that we all should have! I have since been applying this mentality to my personal and professional life…a la…”How can I make as much money as possible, but work as little as possible?” I’ll keep you posted on how that’s going.
I slipped into bed that evening completely sated and completely copacetic with Naples and pizza and life in general. There really is no better way to spend a day than by eating pizza ALL DAY. You should try it some time. It’s good for you.
Stay tuned for even more pizza on Day 2, along with some other tips on Naples restaurants and things to do and see.
Guys, why didn’t we buy flats in Elephant & Castle years ago? We’ve been mocking it all these years BUT…have you been there lately? I think I want to move there. I mean, convenient transport links, a great name, AND a new awesome Italian supermarket with a mostly Italian food court that’s open every day but Monday! Oh, for it to be 2010 again…or maybe 2008 during the financial crisis. Why didn’t I buy property then?? Why???
So yeah, if I lived in Elephant & Castle, I would live at Mercato Metropolitano. It’s like Eataly, but without the bad typography (seriously awful use of white space) and stacks and stacks of panettone. I was about to ask when London was getting its Eataly when I found this article, that says that Mercato Metropolitano was started by one of the founders of Eataly. Oh, and that the Eataly/Selfridges deal has fallen through. So yey for Mercato Metropolitano! Long may it prosper. Maybe if we go there enough, Eataly will finally open a central London foodhall.
After a short walk from Elephant & Castle tube, I entered through MM’s grocery store, which is a long, narrowish space with seemingly no real place to check out except at the entrance. It’s like they really don’t want to take your money! Very odd. I thought for a moment that this was all Mercato Metropolitano had to offer until I made my way to the back yard and into the warehouse behind it. Oddly, a vegetarian stand, a Vietnamese stand, and an Argentinian grill greeted me. This was not what I expected. And there was no coffee…very very odd. (Although there was a little stand with a guy selling Sicilian pastries.)
I turn the corner again, and there it all it. Aha! Now I get it! There is wine and beer and fried things and cheese and more wine and paninis and all sorts of great things. There’s a stand with nothing but tuna! And they have a fat fresh big tuna with eyes so clear he (or she) must have just been plucked out of the Atlantic that morning. (Or well, have been frozen immediately two weeks ago.) They are sawing the tuna open and I peruse the menu while I watch and well, I want to eat everything but I can’t really so now I have to go back.
I order a pizza because…pizza. It’s the Pizza Fresca, which very clearly says that it has salume on it, but yet is also very clearly labeled as vegetarian. The pizza is a hot, bubbly delight although perhaps a little too much crust for my liking. I wish I had some olive oil or something because crust is just a little bleh otherwise. Also, I can confirm that pizza was definitely not vegetarian, unless laboratories worldwide have made amazingly meaty strides with tofu and seitan. It’s a very good pizza though.
I order a wondrously well-priced (5 quid) glass of white in the Enoteca, and snuggle in for a bit in the wooded Tirolean space. The seat covers are sort of like like those wooly rugs you buy at Ikea, but they will look dank and gray and matted in another three months so please, Enoteca, replace them regularly.
I take another wander around Mercato Metropolitano. I love it here. I want to come back. I will come back. It’s a great addition to London.
After a summer of working, working, working — where do the days go, my friends? — I am finally free for a bit. Hence my trips to Thailand and Venice, and hence my leisurely lunch with my friend John last Friday at Ristorante Frescobaldi off of Regent Street. Because you know, I haven’t eaten enough Italian food lately. Oh my goodness, the carbs.
John and I both made the same mistake at Frescobaldi — we tried to enter the restaurant from a corner of the building that is definitely not the entrance. So scan carefully as you approach. The entrance doesn’t seem to be where you might think it is. But once inside, everything is exactly where you’d expect it to be and THE CHAIRS. The chairs are amazing. I am immediately distracted by the chairs, they are so beautiful. Tables are spaced, well, spaciously, and you really get to see the chairs, which look Danish in their form. I spent a lot of time eyeing the chairs at Frescobaldi.
While I waited for John, I tried to order tap water. I tried three times before they actually brought me tap water and not bottled still water. I’m not into the miles or the price on bottled water when London tap water is totally a-ok.
The lunch special! That’s why we’re here. 25 quid for two courses from the very succinct lunch menu. Some lovely, lovely beef carpaccio for me to start…soft and delicious. And then the autumnal tagliatelle with mushrooms which I swear got more autumnal with every bite. Every bite. Many carbs were consumed — i.e., the entire bread basket — in making sure that tagliatelle plate was clean before it was returned to the kitchen. This was all washed down with a very affordable bottle of Frescobaldi’s own attractively-priced Chardonnay, a bottle that never seemed to end. Either that, or I am losing my ability to make half a bottle of Chardonnay magically disappear.
For a Friday afternoon, Frescobaldi was strangely empty during our visit. With the exception of the “Tap Water Incident,” service was prompt and friendly, although don’t mention Monica Lewinsky to them. (I, for one, am a fan of her anti-bullying agenda.) Ah…strangely amazing was the array of candy that was delivered to our table at the end of our meal. It’s like someone had run down to Sainsbury’s and picked up all the Halloween Candy they could. We ate it all, plus the homemade mini meringues and biscotti. I stumbled out of Frescobaldi in a glassy-eyed sugar coma. (John’s words, not mine.) Fascinating.
The Verdict: I like it here. I like the space, I like the chairs, I like the food, I like the wine, and I like the service. I don’t understand why there weren’t more people there. You should go.
I never thought I’d say this but guys, I’m ADDICTED to Snapchat. I experimented with it last summer and never quite figured it out. That’s because I didn’t follow anyone who was doing cool stuff. Then I saw an article somewhere about Adventurous Kate and how you should follow her on Snapchat and I did and now I totally get it! And I love it. In university, I used to do radio and I loved putting together my shows. Snapchat can be sort of like that, which I love. And it’s one of the reasons why I like Adventurous Kate’s use of Snapchat so much. It’s almost like she makes little news reels of her travels and adventures. She did a great series on her visit to Savannah Georgia the other week. Now I just have to get over my fear of selfies. (So so so not into the selfie or lecturing the camera.)
Anyhow, I say all this because I’ve been snapchatting a lot of my meals and adventures these days. If you want to follow me, find me on @kristainlondon. (Surprise.) Or do the whole Snapchat scan thing by scanning my Snapchat thingy over in the right sidebar.
I don’t have a cat (many of the people I follow on Snapchat seem to have cats) and I don’t do a lot of (any?) talking TO the camera though, just so you know. So I guess what I’m saying is that Snapchat is the most instantaneous way to know what I am up to. (I find with Instagram, I string out my photos over time rather than posting them in the moment.) The other night, while I was at Pizza Buzz with May from Eat Cook Explore, I Snapchatted the interior of the restaurant, but oddly not the food. I was too focused on EATING the pizza. Here’s the interior…
I was also focused on Atila, the uber-charming pizza maker. Guess where Atila is from?? HUNGARY. Atila the Hun, get it?? Love it. Love Atila. And I love his pizzas.
Although if you go to Pizza Buzz, I wouldn’t recommend the odd combinations they offer on the chalkboard. We tried one of them — veal meatballs and caramelized onions — but the onions made the pizza too sweet and who wants a sweet pizza? Not this New Yorker. There was also some sort of Irish pizza with potatoes that I just didn’t even want to imagine.
We did admire the crispy, slightly charred crust of both our pizzas though. Only 2 minutes in the pizza oven, flaming away at the back of the restaurant! 2 minutes! The miracle of pizza, my friends. Of the three combinations of pizza we tried — May wisely went for a half/half — we liked her spicy pizza with nduja sausage the best.
With our pizzas, we enjoyed a very good version of a Caesar salad, with nice creamy, garlicky dressing. We also had some burrata with rocket; the burrata could have been a bit creamier but one really cannot complain about burrata because, well, it’s burrata. And to top it all off, I had GOAT MILK MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP ICE CREAM. Like I had died and gone to heaven. (I really really like mint chocolate chip.)
The Verdict: Pizza Buzz is fun and friendly. Pizzas start at about £7 and go up from there, depending on what toppings you order. You can see the full menu over here. Note that things look like they could quickly add up…
The Fine Print: I was a guest of May’s during our visit to Pizza Buzz. She was invited to try Pizza Buzz out so we did not pay for our meal.
One day, I will leave EC1, I swear. BUT EVERYTHING I NEED IS RIGHT HERE. So why go far? And look, there’s a new pizza place. Did you know that pizza is the #1 most ordered item on JustEat? Oddly, for the UK at least, pizza is about the last thing I ever order as takeaway. I much prefer an in-person pizza. Maybe it’s the way bridge & tunnel people in New York are raised. We eat pizza IN PERSON.
So The Wedge Issue. Relatively new to the ‘hood — oh how I wish their was a neighborhood Facebook group to discuss these new local things — and I was hungry and maybe the tiniest bit hungover so I made the slog and was one of the maybe four people in the place. After placing my order relatively quickly — I had sussed out my order in advance — the smoke detector went off multiple times . Surprise surprise, the restaurant filled with smoke. Doors and windows were opened so instead we shivered as we sat waiting, eventually smoke free. Then they were out of the IPA I wanted, and then my replacement beer order took ages to arrive because they were letting the foam settle. (Communication, people.) My Soho pizza — N’duja sausage, peppers, chilli, mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce — was tasty but a little soggy in the middle which made me sad. The husband-wife team that run the place seem very sweet, albeit a bit distracted. (American? Canadian? I’m not sure.) But hmmm. Too many questions. Most specifically, who were ALL THE PEOPLE that came out of the basement???
The Verdict: Maybe I caught them on an off day. I’d give them another shot. Good for groups and for one of those lunches where you have to please a lot of people with different tastes.
I have been eating a lot of pizza lately. Maybe it’s because of my recent New York trip. (More about that soon, I promise.) I ate a lot of pizza in New York and well, I came back to London and was still in the zone and just couldn’t stop eating anything sauce-y and cheese-y.
Pizza Union totally delivers. On a crazily rainy afternoon the other week, we scarfed down two piping hot pizzas — one Vesuvio (pepperoni, green chillies, cracked chillies) and one Stagioni (cotto ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, artichokes, black olives) — in the blink of an eye. And I mean blink because Pizza Union is not kidding when they say these are “superfast” pizzas. There were pretty much no minutes between placing our order and being served. Maybe five minutes, max?? We washed our delight down with the house red wine that we affectionately called “pizza wine” because, well, it was a very good pizza wine.
Americans amongst you will laugh when you are handed one of those “Your table is ready” devices which will blink and buzz when it’s your turn to head up to the front and pick up your pizza. That’s part of how Pizza Union does this so fast. You place your order at the till, get your device and find a seat. (When we were there at lunchtime on a Friday, the place was PACKED. By 2:30 pm, it had emptied out.) The staff are seriously cranking out pizzas like there is no tomorrow so it won’t be long before your buzzer is a-blinkin’.
A Pizza Margherita at Pizza Union goes for an astonishing value price of £3.95. The Vesuvio, £5.50 and the Stagione £6.50. How they keep prices so low, I don’t understand!! Either rent is cheap or they do so much in volume that it all sort of works itself out.
During our stay, we also enjoyed some corn nuts, a verdura salad and some crazy delicious desserts that I cannot even explain. Deep fried rings of deliciousness stuffed with caramel and nutella, covered in cocoa. Messy but delicious.
We really enjoyed our time at Pizza Union. It’s buzzy and fun and well, a terrific good value. Staff during our visit were super friendly and nice. It’s a student-y type of place bound to be popular with the kids. But it will be popular with me as well.
The Verdict: Fun for the entire family.
I was a guest of Pizza Union and invited Denise along.