26 May 2017

At L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele, a Slice of Naples in Stokey

Last summer, I went all the way to Naples to find the world's best pizza only to discover that almost all of the pizzerias on my list were closed for the Ferragosto holidays. I should clarify that visiting Naples in August was not something I planned — we were attending a family wedding in nearby Sorrento — but I wasn't fully prepared for the extent of the pizza disappointment I would experience.

One of the pizzerias on my list that I couldn't visit, L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele, has long ranked among the world's very best purveyors of pizzas. And Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love — the first third of which is a love letter to Da Michele's margherita — only fuelled the pizzeria's fame and acclaim.

Perhaps Michele felt bad that I had missed out on such margherita magnificence because soon after I returned to London, the news broke that Da Michele was opening a new branch — in Stoke Newington, of all places. Although a little closer to home than Naples, Stokey isn't the most convenient part of London to get to from Bermondsey, so it took me a while to visit. Besides, I wanted to wait for the first reviews, to make sure that the high Neapolitan standards had transferred successfully to London.

I finally made it up to lovely Stoke Newington Church Street on Friday and, arriving just before 6:30 pm, was pleased to find that there wasn't even a queue. I nabbed a cosy table in the window — great for people-watching and waited for the rest of my party to arrive. The restaurant is light and modern; the interiors are understated and refreshingly non-hipster. By the time we left, around 7:15 pm, all the tables were full and it looked like a queue was about to form. They were doing a brisk trade in take-out pizzas too — how I wish Da Michele was my local pizzeria!

The menu is pretty simple: do you like cheese on your pizza, and if so, how much? The regular margherita is £7.90, with the mozzarella-free marinara £1 cheaper; you can also order a 'doppio mozzarella' for £9 and a large marinara for £7.90 Although sadly not quite Naples prices, these prices were very fair, given the location and the quality of the ingredients. As for the drinks menu, there were four Moretti beers and nine reasonably priced wines, including a Prosecco. Alas, contrary to the indication of the menu, they weren't serving the Prosecco by the glass so I stuck to tap water, but my brother and sister-in-law enjoyed their wines.

I soon found out that 'doppio mozzarella' didn't just mean 'double mozzarella', as the name suggested, but a bigger pizza too. I told my brother he could finish my pizza but I spoke too soon because it was so delicious that I managed to finish the whole thing, even most of the crust. What a pizza, though! The fior di latte mozzarella was rich and creamy and contrasted beautifully with the tart fruitiness of the tomato. And as for the base, it was chewy and delicious with perfectly charcoaled edges. Yes, I was stuffed when I finished, but could I have eaten another slice if one materialised? Very probably.

'Best pizza ever' is quite a weighty accolade and I think I need to do more research before I can make such an award, but Da Michele is definitely up there. I would also still like to make a pilgrimage to the original location, even if it means queueing for a long time in the Neapolitan heat. I'm not sure the pizza could be better, but I'd like to enjoy the experience.

What Da Michele isn't suited for is a long, leisurely dinner, but when in Stoke Newington, there are plenty of venues for a nightcap. We nabbed a booth a Original Sin, a relaxed but fun basement bar with an excellent creative cocktail menu. The music is good, the staff are friendly and there's even a pool table. Find them at 129 Stoke Newington High Street.

L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele. 125 Stoke Newington Church Street, London, N16 0UH (Stoke Newington rail). Facebook. Twitter.

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