As an ex-hippy, I found style guru Peter York’s Hipster Handbook on BBC4 a blast from the past. The similarities are remarkable. None of us considered ourselves hippies, though we undoubtedly were, and none of the people he interviewed would admit to being Hipsters, despite the beards.
Like Hippiedom, Hipsterism is an opportunity for men to grow hair and adopt a work-wear style. I paid 49/6d (£2.50) for my first Levi’s. Back then you had to shrink them to fit by wearing them in the bath, emerging blue all over.
York characterised the Hipster as striving for authenticity, and so were we, from what I can remember, although not perhaps in the same way. We mostly strove to distinguish hashish from Oxo. Food was not our thing, unless you were on a macrobiotic diet, and we still drank – horror of horrors – Nescafé. There was no pizza, unless you made it to Pizza Express in Soho’s Dean Street, which opened in 1965. I ate my first slice in Paris in 1968. A delicious thing with anchovies, tomatoes and black olives, on a thick bready base. I thought it was bliss on a paper plate.
York made his documentary in Shoreditch, the locus classicus of Hipsterdom, and now, he says, not so much a place, more a state of mind. The area to find that mindset in Manchester is not, as you might expect, Chorlton – which is really the Crouch End of the North – but the land to the north of Great Ancoats, around Blossom Street and Cutting Room Square. There’s lots going on there. Developers have turned old industrial buildings into flats and called the area by its original name from the 1840s, New Islington. The Hallé has its rehearsal rooms there, there’s a fascinating new theatre at the old Hope Mill, and bars and restaurants are opening to serve the locals.
It’s to one of the latter to which I want to draw your attention: Rudy’s Pizza. Rudy’s is absolutely on trend. It serves traditional Neapolitan pizza in ex-industrial premises with minimum fuss.
If you’re not familiar with Neapolitan pizza, it’s not what you get at Pizza Express. The dough is made from 00 Italian flour, the tomatoes are San Marzano and the cheese is Fior de Latte Mozzarella. In addition, it’s baked in a wood-burning oven at 400F for 60-90 seconds. Those are the rules. The result is a pizza with a raised and often blackened crust round the edge, and a flat moist base.
Pizza was invented in Naples and in the most traditional pizzeria there, Da Michele, you can only buy Pizza Margherita (tomato and cheese) and Pizza Marinara (just tomato and called marinara as that’s what the fishermen cooked). But just up the road in Pizzeria Sorbillo, the menu has more than 30 styles and you can even get a deep-fried calzone. However, they draw the line at caramelised pineapple.
Rudy’s doesn’t do pineapple either. It does do 11 other styles, from Marinara (£4.80) to more elaborate pizza like Ancozzese, a white pizza with Tuscan sausage, leaves of friarielli, mozzarella, parmesan and chilli flakes (£8.50). I had the Lardo, topped with thin slices of that exquisite Italian pork fat cured with rosemary (£8.50).
The first thing that strikes you is how big they are. And while you are conveying a forkful to your mouth you’re thinking ‘what great value for money’. Then, when you taste it, ‘thank god I don’t have shares in Pizza Express,’.
Eight of us had olives, pizza, three bottles of very decent wine, a beer and a campari soda in a charming little bottle (which was the only disappointment of the whole thing, just not quite strong enough). All in, and with a 12 per cent tip, it came to £20 each.
Pudding is a slice of polenta cake or ice cream from Ginger’s Comfort Emporium in Chorlton. Sadly, we didn’t have time as we were off to Hope Mill to see its revival of 1968 Hippy musical Hair (brilliant, and you know I’m an expert), which raises the only drawback to Rudy’s. You can’t book, and if you’re off somewhere afterwards there’s nowhere nearby to default to. We sent an advance party to hold the table, which was just as well because by 6.30pm on a Tuesday night it was packed. Inconvenient as it is, the on-costs of a booking system are high in terms of staff, no-shows and so on, and at these prices I can understand their position. On the other hand, they do let you in without a beard.
By Chris Wallis
Other Neapolitan Pizza in the North West: Honest Crust in Altrincham Market, where Rudy learnt his trade; Double Zero in Chorlton, where they embrace the caramelised pineapple; Ply in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, big, noisy and more expensive than Rudy’s.