My family has always eaten a lot of pizza: when I was growing up in Oxford, our Friday night family outings usually took place at Pizza Express and even a decade later, the UK pizza scene hadn't moved on very far. Thankfully, though, London finally has some great pizzerias that serve authentic and delicious pizzas. Here are five of my favourites:
1. Pizza Pilgrims
Pizza Pilgrims started its life as a Piaggio Ape van kitted out with a pizza oven based at Berwick Street Market. Founders James and Thom Elliot took the van on a pizza pilgrimage through Italy to learn the secrets of the perfect Neapolitan pizza from the experts. They now have two bricks-and-mortar pizzerias in Soho (Dean Street and Kingly Street), and a pop-up in Peckham, and the van still roams its way around London. The pizzerias are fun and funky and usually have a soundtrack of great '90s tunes.
I am something of a pizza purist and unless there are some really tempting toppings, I almost always order a margherita, sometimes with buffalo mozzarella. If the ingredients are good quality, there is no need for fancy toppings, and the ingredients at Pizza Pilgrims are top notch. The base is thin and the crust is puffy: slightly chewy and very moreish. It's well worth upgrading your margherita (£6.50) with a generous portion of the delicious, creamy buffalo mozzarella for £2.50. The wines are well priced and they even have Prosecco on tap. NB: there are a few sides and puddings, but no non-pizza mains. Margherita: £6.50. My full review.
Pizza Pilgrims is located at 11 Dean Street, London, W1D 3RP, and 11 Kingly Street, London, W1B 5PW.
The antipodean-run Caravan in King's Cross doesn't just do pizza, but it does pizza exceptionally well. The restaurant is based very close to my office so I usually go at lunchtimes and, in the absence of a weekday brunch menu, pizza is usually an easier choice than the tasty small and large plates that are also available.
The pizza menu changes from time to time and there is usually a pizza special, but I have rarely deviated from my usual margherita order (£9). The crust is puffy and crisp, and the tomato sauce is tangy and pairs perfectly with the creamy mozzarella. There is an extensive wine list, but I usually have one of the excellent single-origin filter coffees or for a special treat, the decadent salted caramel hot chocolate. My full review.
Caravan is located at 1 Granary Square, London, N1C 4AA.
3. Franco Manca
Franco Manca has come a long way since its first location opened in Brixton in 2008. There are now 15 restaurants in its mini-empire, and to my great excitement, its 16th branch will be opening in my neighbourhood next week; I've been looking forward to Franco Manca's arrival on Bermondsey Street for over a year!
Franco Manca's pizzas are famous for their delicious sourdough bases, backed in a wood-burning brick oven. Although I sometimes don't finish my pizza crusts, Franco Manca's are so delicious that I've never been able to do so, no matter how full I am. The margherita pizza (AKA no. 2) is £5.90 and is my usual order. None of the other pizzas on the regular menu are really my thing, but I sometimes order one of the specials, such as the pizza with green beans, pine nuts and pesto pictured below. There are a few wines, beers and soft drinks on the menu too, but no non-pizza mains. The service is speedy and as they don't take bookings, you may sometimes need to queue. My mini-review.
Franco Manca has multiple London pizzerias. Find your local here.
4. Il Baretto
Since I moved from Marylebone to Bermondsey, I don't make it to Il Baretto, an Italian restaurant in Blandford Street, as often as I used to. It has long been a family favourite, though, and we often go for birthdays and other celebratory meals. The restaurant is located in the basement and is dark, sleek and intimate (this also makes photography very challenging), and the staff are lovely.
The menu has a lot more to offer than pizza, but as we usually share large platters of Italian deliciousness to start, I don't feel as though I'm missing out on the non-pizza options when I inevitably order the pizza. At £13.50, the margherita is by far the most expensive pizza on this list, but it is worth it — especially if you are looking for a more elegant venue to indulge in your pizza whims. For £16, you can have the bufala, but it comes with fresh rather than cooked buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. I usually stick to the margherita, which a generous amount of delicious mozzarella. If you can make it as far as the puddings, they are well worth the indulgence! My full review.
Il Baretto is located at 43 Blandford Street, London, W1U 7HF.
5. Pizza Union
The newest addition to my London pizza compendium is Pizza Union, whose second location opened up in King's Cross a few months ago. They serve Roman-style pizzas that are super-cheap, super-speedy and very tasty indeed. The margherita costs just £3.95 and has a thin base, tasty tomato sauce and decent mozzarella (not quite as good as some of the other pizzas on this list).
After ordering at the bar, you get a buzzer that vibrates when your pizza is ready — usually within about five or ten minutes. On Fridays, there are often big lunchtime queues, but the turnover is pretty swift. The restaurant is also beautifully decorated with its colourful tiling and industrial-chic neon lighting. My full review.
Pizza Union is located at 246–250 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JY, and 25 Sandy's Row, London, E1 7HW.