Fast forward to the Franco Manca of today, after a huge £27.5 million takeover by David Page (Mr Pizza Express) they have escalated to 20 odd locations with the Brighton branch being only the second outside of London. So I was really interested to see if the pizza was still as good as it used to be. (And believe me, I would turn up the Italian tantrum to 10 if I find they had started cutting holes in the centre to replace with a fricking salad.)
The fit out is gorgeous with enormous bi-fold windows that are spot on for the three annual hot, balmy nights we get in the UK. The tiles are total Instagram "floofie" material and there's a really nice mash up of slick industrial materials and hand crafted decoration. (One thing I do like about the London chain invasion is that they bring a far higher quality environment with them. I do not want to see IKEA stickers on furniture when I'm dining out. Brighton clearly loves a bargain. )
Ordering starters when eating pizza is something I never really do. It's not really the done thing and starters generally are topped bread based things, far too similar to pizza. But the waitress mentioned burrata and God help my weaknesses. This beautiful, glossy, wobbly ball of cheese is packed with full fat cream and silky curds when you break into it. It's like the royal cousin of the humble mozzarella. I can't even express my love of this cheese, try it.
I liked the short menu here. Six pizzas, a couple of specials and a salad or two. Those expecting a pizza with an inch of sloppy sauce and piles of toppings on can go to the pre-theatre pizza pasta places locally. This is not what you are going to get here.
Bases are of the beautiful, pillowy soft Neapolitan kind. What I adore about Franco Manca pizza is the chew. Even though we have some decent pizza in town now (Fatto a Mano and Nuposto), the chew here is a dream. Discarding the crust (cornicione) here is a crime. Eat it all.
Toppings are secondary to the base in my book, but these were all great quality. My Napoli (tomato base, garlic, oregano, capers olives, anchovies and cheese) was precisely the amount I would want, well seasoned and tasty. Mr GF chose two types of chorizo (dry and semi-dry) and again, perfect ratio.
Dessert was worth ordering - I had a warm lemon and almond cake with honey and even though the sorbets was not anything to write home to Italy about, were nice enough. and refreshing
The prices here are remarkable really. Most expensive pizza is £6.95 (some in Brighton, particularly the takeaways, are starting to pip the £10 mark) and the drinks are also well selected and priced with bottles of good wine around £15 (I had zero issue enjoying my bottle share of the organic red). The only beer they had was their own No Logo bottles, which Mr GF (a bit of a beer boff) wasn't that taken with.
I think it's quite easy to be snobby about chain restaurants, but I'd have to agree with a comment on Twitter; "better an accessible, reliable chain than a flaky indie." I know we love to support our independents and we do have some good options for pizza, but there is certainly room for Franco Manca here and I have no issue sending it to the top of my Brighton pizza list. Plus it saves me a fortune in rail fare.
Franco Manca Brighton