Yesterday I had one of the greatest pizza experiences of my whole life. My brother and I were on a hungover trip to Balham to check out the charity shops, which incidentally, were mind-blowingly expensive - what's happened since I've been gone?! And what do I see but a new branch of the famous sourdough pizzeria, Franco Manca, shining like a beacon luring me in. I have heard a lot about this pizzeria over the years but have never quite managed to get to one of their branches. They were always that little bit too far away for me to fit in on my brief visits to my parents' home. Not anymore.
So we wandered (dashed?) over the road to go in. The man who greeted us at the door regretfully informed us that they weren't really open yet and were doing a soft opening for friends and family only today. Tragedy! He suggested we come back next week when they open properly. Unfortunately, I am returning to The North tomorrow to go back to work in Leeds, and when I told him that he called the owner over who cheerfully offered to let us stay. Score! I must confess that we seriously enjoyed seeing the pizza envy on the faces of the many, many people who also tried to eat there while we were in attendance.
In fact, I had eaten a hearty breakfast only a short time ago and was only eating at all because the lure of amazing pizza is always profound for me. Consequently we turned down the waitress' offer of olives and nibbles, but I did start with a lovely tart homemade lemonade made with fresh lemon juice and not-too-much raw sugar.
We ordered the day's Vegetable Special and a classic Margarita and settled back excitedly to wait for our pizzas to arrive, trying not to food perve too much on the next table's order. And then they arrived. The Margarita, with its organic tomato sauce, a sprinkle of organic mozzarella shards and a few leaves of fragrant, sweet, basil. And the Vegetable Special which that day came with organic mozzarella, organic tomatoes, fresh spinach, organic Kalamata olives, Colston Bassett Stilton and fresh basil.
What pizza! The dough and cornice were flawless - cool, creamy, moist and chewy. The sourdough's distinctive tang really added to the flavour of the entire pizza, not just the delicious crust, and there was exceptional, smoky, flavoursome charring across the whole pizza.
The organic tomato sauce was very well-flavoured and seasoned and the toppings had been applied with a skilled and judicious hand. The cheeses, vegetables, flour, oil and olives (super tasty olives!) were high quality, considered and carefully sourced. Almost everything there was organic.
The table also held both super-fiery chilli and garlic oils, and a powerful pepper grinder that I am relieved to report we were allowed to self-administer! All good signs. And all this for only £5.90 for a sizeable Margarita and £7.25 for their Vegetable Special. What a complete and utter bargain.
But then, the best bit. After we'd stuffed ourselves and asked for the bill, we were told today it was on the house and that they hoped we enjoyed it and would come back again soon. An astoundingly glorious end to what had already been right up there with the very best of my pizza eating adventures. Still hungover, but with a real spring in our steps, we headed for home. I will be eating there again. Soon. And so should you.