Sourdough pizza is all the rage and I for one am not complaining. You won’t find a bigger pizza fan than me and, after sampling pretty much all the pizza in Naples on a trip last year (five pizzas in six days is my record), I reckon I’m a bit of a connoisseur.
Like Rudy’s, Manchester’s much-loved and perennially packed Neapolitan pizzeria, Franco Manca doesn’t take bookings, but I’m still surprised to find a queue snaking out the door until I remember that, for a short period of time, all pizzas (including the fancy ones) are just £5.
The restaurant is extremely busy and although it doesn’t feel crowded, it’s boiling. I’m not sure if that’s the temperature or my thick winter knit. It’s not long before a friendly waiter appears to take our drink order (later he reveals that he’s the manager and has donned the restaurant’s branded t-shirt for the evening). There’s a unfussy menu which I’m totally on board with as I’m indecisive and a complex menu can take me eons to navigate. There’s a short selection of starters, pizzas, sides, desserts and drinks but, if you fancy something a bit different, there’s also a specials board with an extra meat and veggie pizza option.
I keep it simple and order a tomato, mozzarella and basil sourdough pizza and my pal, who used to be a pizza chef and so, for entirely different reasons to me, is also a bit of a connoisseur, does the same. We also order a side of Nocellara green olives and a non-alcoholic beer for me, and a bottle of Franco Manca’s own No Label pale ale.
The pizza, which is quickly delivered to the table and piping hot, is everything it should be: cheesy with a tangy tomato sauce and a hint of basil on fluffy sourdough. Diners can also substitute the mozzarella for vegan cheese or a gluten-free base.
Despite being stuffed, I’ve still got room for cake and plump for the lemon and almond. When my dessert arrives, it’s covered in sticky honey which seeps through the sponge, and a side of Greek yoghurt. It’s delicious and if I hadn’t just wolfed an entire pizza, I’d have eaten the whole thing. But I only manage half. Beware, it’s incredibly sweet so probably not to everyone’s taste. My pal opts for the chocolate cake, served with a blob of vanilla ice-cream, and he scoffs the lot, proclaiming that it’s tasty but would be even better warmed up.
As chain restaurants go, Franco Manca serves up authentic sourdough pizza and its interior isn’t gimmicky, but it doesn’t have the same independent vibe as some of the other restaurants in Manchester. Having said that, the setting is paired back with simple wooden chairs and tables plus a large chalk specials board at the back of the restaurant. The menu is simple, the prices are certainly reasonable – even at full price – and the staff are extremely friendly.
So, if you’re a pizza fan like me, or if you’re looking for somewhere cosy, convenient and quick (the service is faultless) to grab a bite to eat after work, you could do worse than nipping into Franco Manca.