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L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele: a slice of Naples in London

L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele: a slice of Naples in London

Tom Shingler 10 February 2017

It’s been wowing pizza-lovers in Naples since 1870, but now the world-renowned pizzeria has opened its doors in London. We went there to see how its owners put tradition and simplicity above all else to create the perfect pizza.


Queuing for an hour and a half for a pizza that takes a minute to make might sound crazy – but then this isn’t any ordinary pizza. L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is one of the most famous pizzerias in the world (thanks in part to being featured in the Julia Roberts film Eat, Pray, Love), and has been attracting the world’s pizza-obsessed to Naples for decades. Its London incarnation opened in Stoke Newington last week amongst some serious media hype, and the queues (which only get really bad on Saturday night; opt for a takeaway if they’re too long) certainly show there’s plenty of demand for authentic Neapolitan pizza in the capital.

Of course, having nearly 150 years of history, experience and fame to fall back on certainly helps when opening a new restaurant. But what makes L’Antica stand out perhaps even more than its traditional methods and huge, authentic wood-fired oven is that it only serves two types of pizza: marinara (tomatoes, garlic, oregano) and margherita (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil).

‘When we were first opening we thought about having two or three specials, and we might still do that in the next month or so,’ says Vania Sarnataro, who runs the pizzeria with her sister, Serena. ‘But we wanted to begin with just the two classics, exactly the same as you will find in Naples.’

The decision to open another L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in London was only announced late last year, and the quick set-up of the restaurant is testament to the simplicity of the operation. Two styles of pizza, a short wine and beer list and a few desserts made out of house is all that’s on offer, so there’s nowhere for the quality of the food to hide. It also helps that the 2,300kg pizza oven gets so hot that the made-to-order pizzas fly out of the kitchen throughout the day. ‘It only takes a minute or two to cook each pizza, but the pizzaiolos are so fast,’ says Vania. ‘Customers love to watch them at work, even after they’ve finished their pizza.’

So why London? There is actually another L’Antica in Tokyo, but the decision to lay down roots in the UK capital was purely because of how much we love pizza. ‘My sister has lived in London for years and really missed Naples and its pizza,’ says Vania. ‘She thought it would be great to have this huge piece of tradition here in the city so Londoners had a proper place to eat real, traditional pizza. Plus, London is full of Italian people and pizza in general is really appreciated here.’

It wasn’t a simple case of replicating the Neapolitan restaurant and recipes in a new location, however – factors like humidity can make a real difference to how dough behaves when rising, so a little bit of experimentation was needed. L’Antica prides itself on its dough above all else, so it was vital to get the perfect flavour and texture in the pizza base. ‘We didn’t change the dough but we did have to alter the mix of ingredients because of the difference in weather, which effects how the dough rises. In Naples it’s obviously hotter, so the chefs came over and spent ten days finding the right balance between the flour, the yeast and the weather. I’m from Naples so I’ve been to the original L’Antica hundreds of times, and while the first pizzas we tried here weren’t exactly the same, we’ve now perfected the recipe and they’re great.’

The dough truly is something to behold – the thin base is almost like a flatbread, with leopard-like spots adding a smokiness to the light chewy dough. The fact that the very best, freshest tomatoes and creamiest cheese make up the toppings is the icing on the cake. If you're a fan of pizza and haven't had the chance to visit the Neapolitan L'Antica, it's well worth heading to the London outpost to see why Naples is the Mecca of pizza.

‘I think L’Antica is so famous because it’s so simple,’ concludes Vania. ‘People don’t have to spend lots of time choosing between hundreds of pizzas – it’s either marinara or margherita, that’s it. In Naples when someone asks you if you want to go there, you remember it as the place that only serves two varieties.’

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