A little history
Pizza is the ultimate comfort food. It’s quick to have, but so filling. It was the perfect meal, at any time of the day, for Naples’ lazzaroni. They were the city’s inhabitants who fell into poverty during the 1700s because the urban economy had not been able to keep pace with the population explosion – it doubled in only half a century!
Pizzas were sold by street vendors, often cut into slices to suit the customer’s budget and appetite. The pizza makers would cover the most simple pizzas with nothing more than garlic, lard, and salt. Other toppings included a cheese made from horse’s milk, basil, and tomatoes, that curious ingredient that had recently been introduced from the Americas.
It’s hard to imagine that this much-loved Italian dish was ever described as ‘disgusting,’ as it was by food writers and foreign visitors when pizza was associated with poverty. It took some royalty and a fresh perspective all the way across the Atlantic to turn the pizza into the ubiquitous, popular food it is today.
King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889. Rumour has it, they grew tired of complicated French dishes served for every meal. Enter pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito who presented them with three types of pizza. The queen was most infatuated by his tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil concoction, coincidentally (or not) in the colours of the Italian flag. This is how the pizza Margherita we know and love today got its name.
Try the Margherita here
Let’s all remember to thank Queen Margherita for initiating this particular pizza tradition whenever we visit Pizza Pilgrims. The restaurant, with several London locations, specialises in the Neapolitan style and serves up a mean Margherita with fior di latte mozzarella, a soft and supple dough, for only £7.50. The duo behind the restaurant spent six weeks on a pizza pilgrimage in the south of Italy, hence the name – and the excellent Margherita!
Where? Victoria, Westfield, City, London Bridge, Soho, Carnaby, Exmouth Market, Covent Garden, Swingers Crazy Golf, Shoreditch, West India Quay, Oxford
You go for the dough
What makes this pizza joint extra special is that it has four different types of dough to choose from: traditional, wholemeal, vegetable charcoal, or gluten-free. All of them are fermented for 48 hours and baked inside hand-crafted wood-fired ovens. Add creamy burrata to this and you’re in for pizza heaven straight from the sweetest of your dreams.
Where? Aldgate East: Unit 1a, 12 Piazza Walk, London E1 8ZH
Boxpark Wembley: Olympic Way, Boxpark Wembley, Unit 11, HA9 ONU
Hammersmith: 61 Blythe Rd, London, W14 OHP
Islington: 157 Holloway Rd, London, N7 8LX
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
The pizza at this legendary Naples pizzeria is stretched just like it would be in Naples: pulled and pinched over a wooden paddle, with a base so thin that you can almost see through it. It’s a misshapen pizza with tomato and mozzarella the same as at its original Naples restaurant. A unique piece each and every time, the result of love, as we like to believe. A pretty good ristorante to have a date on Valentine’s Day.
Where? 199 Baker St, Marylebone, London NW1 6UY
Under the radar
Yard Sale Pizza
Yard Sale’s stone-baked pizzas started off as a supper club in one of the founder’s back garden and has since turned into five restaurants across London. Choices are aplenty when it comes to the pizzeria’s thin-crusted flexi beauties. Pick from a TSB (tender stem broccoli), Holy Pepperoni (with spicy Nduja sausage), or Evil Maestro, which includes those little sinful spicy anchovies.
Where? Hackney: 184 Hackney Road, London, E2 7QL
Leytonstone: 622 High Road Leytonstone, London, E11 3DA
Walthamstow: 15 Hoe Street, London E17 4SD
Finsbury Park: 54 Blackstock Road, London N4 2DW
Clapton: 105 Lower Clapton Rd, London E5 0NP
Back to the origins
Out of all the pizzerias in London, perhaps it is Pizza Union that might have appealed most to the lazzaroni, if they were still around. This casual pizza place is buzzy, fast, and cheap. Pizzas are made in Roman style, with thin and crispy bases. There is also a gluten-free option. The Calabria with mascarpone, nduja sausage and rocket is a great choice for a spicy meal.
Where? Aldgate: 29 Leman St, Whitechapel, London E1 8PT
Dalston: 14 Kingsland High St, Dalston, London E8 2JP
Hoxton: 145 City Rd, Hoxton, London EC1V 1AW
King’s Cross: 246-250 Pentonville Rd, London N1 9JY
Spitalfields: 25 Sandy’s Row, Spitalfields, London E1 7HW
Crafted by a master
50 Kalò di Ciro Salvo
Ciro Salvo is a pizza master, the third generation of pizzamakers from a renowned family. His extensive research means that we can enjoy pizza with extremely hydrated dough, making it especially light and easy to digest. This practice of adding a large percentage of water to the flour has even resulted in awards and recognition from the most regarded food critics. We don’t need to be asked twice if we want a piece of that!
Where? 7 Northumberland Ave, Westminster, London WC2N 5BY, UK
True Neapolitan style
Run by two Neapolitans, you don’t need to look any further than Santa Maria for that original thin-crusted, stretchy, chewy Neapolitan pizza. The duo uses a wood-fired oven imported directly from Italy, and the most crucial ingredients are from the source itself: San Marzano tomato sauce DOP and artisanal fior di latte from Campania. All pizzas are served with extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil leaves – get ready to reawaken your senses.
Where? Ealing: 15 St. Mary’s Road, London W5 5RA
Chelsea: 94 Waterford Road, London SW6 2HA
Fitzrovia: 160 New Cavendish Strreet, Fitzrovia, London W1W 6YR
These days, we often take more time to really indulge in a freshly baked pizza than the lazzaroni probably ever did. Whether you like it a bit different, with a vegetable charcoal dough at Zia Lucia, or a bit fast and cheap, like at Pizza Union, there are plenty of options in London for you.