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Friday, 22 January 2010

Franco Manca: A tragic comedy

144 Chiswick High Road
Chiswick, W4 1PU
tel: +44 (0)20 8747 4822

Chaos. Pure chaos. That's what meets you when you walk through the door of this Neapolitan pizza joint. First off, there's a queue. It stretches right out the door. Which is a good sign, right? I'll come back to that. This is the second branch of the legendary hole in the wall Franco Manca (meaning Frank's missing) in Brixton Market. The original has received rave reviews. William Skidelsky from the Observer newspaper said it was "pizza that can rival the best in Italy". So, clued-up Chiswickians were happy to stand shivering in a long queue on a chilly Friday evening to wait for a slice of Italy. However, I soon realised that it's not the popularity of the place which had punters waiting in the cold. It's the incompetency of the place. Once we got near enough to the front of the line, we watched skinny Italian waiters running around the restaurant like headless chickens. I zoned in on one waiter in particular who was working the front of house. He kept bringing expectant looking customers freshly cooked pizzas - but without fail - they were always the wrong ones. "Number 1?" he would shout at a customer (referring to the tomato, mozza and basil pizza). The customer shook his head and shouted back, "NO! Number 5!" (tomato, cured organic chorizo and mozzarella). The waiter turned away in confusion and started yelling at other customers: "Number 1? Number 1?" People found this very amusing. Groups would look at the guy with pity and then burst into fits of giggles with each other. This went on every single time a new pizza came out of the oven. Either this waiter was the most forgetful I had ever seen - or really and truly - a dimwit. Once we finally did get a table - shared with another couple - we weren't immune from the confusion. After waiting for 15 minutes for someone to come and take our drinks order, I flagged down the curly-haired Italian manager, clad in a bright pink dress shirt. "Buono sera" he purred. "Yeah, hi, can we order, please?" I begged. "No problemo, I get my man to be right with you." After a slap on the ass, the panicked-looking waiter came over. I ordered a fresh lemonade and a Number 6 (tomato, garlic, oregano). There are only six choices of pizza, all on Franco Manca's famed sourdough crust - all under £7. My bloke ordered a beer (Sam Smith is the only choice) and a Number 4 (tomato, garlic, oregano, capers, anchovies). It only took five minutes, when the waiter came over with two steaming pizzas. "I 'ave a Numero 2 and a Numero 6" he yelled. The girl beside me claimed the Number 2. I claimed the Number 6. Which left both our men (and we weren't together) without pizzas for the next 20 minutes. And still no sign of drinks! 

Again, I begged the suave manager, "please can we have our drinks? And please can these men have their pizzas?". The chaos was so out of control, it became comedy. People were looking at each other with bemusement and understanding because we were all in the same vortex of confusion. The chefs were yelling in the waiters in Italian. The manager was busy flirting with every female in the place. And couples sat waiting: one with pizza, one without. I had finished mine by the time my bloke's finally arrived. Yeah, and speaking of the pizza: it was okay. Just okay. Certainly not legendary. And certainly not pizza that "rivals the best in Italy". And though it seems like a strange thing to moan about: WTF was with the lemonade? It was a cloudy orange colour and didn't taste like lemons at all. In fact, it didn't taste like anything. Well, maybe a hint of ginger. So strange. Sigh...Franco Manca. It's cheap, it's chaotic, but it's a friggin' mess - and very, very average. In fact, I'd say Pizza Hut makes better pies. Maybe the one in Brixton truly is better. If it is, I'd like to know.

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