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20 The Broadway, Wimbledon, SW19 1RE
0208 947 4368
The pizza is made from slow-rising sourdough (minimum 20 hours) and is baked in a wood burning 'Tufae' brick oven made on site by specialised artisans from Naples. This oven produces a heat of about 500c (930f). The slow levitation and blast-cooking process lock in the flour's natural aroma and moisture giving a soft, easily digestible crust. As a result, the edge (cornicione) is excellent and shouldn't be discarded.
Please ask for any info about allergens.
Franco Manca is the 18th London branch of this expanding chain (there's also one in nearby Southfields), providing Wimbledon with its newest restaurant on The Broadway (it officially opens today, 5/12/2015), providing a menu of authentic Italian pizzas, antipasti, drinks (no American brand carbonated drinks here) and a few dessert options, in a simple quasi industrial interior offset by an abstractly multi-coloured 'feature' wall.
The atmosphere was buzzing: the place was packed with a real mix of family groups, friends, couples and work colleagues. The full complement of charming staff (I think I counted 16 on duty, four of whom were hard at work in the open kitchen) were fired with enthusiasm. It made for an electric evening.
The second day's soft-launch two evening sittings meant that although we turned up at our booked time (7.30pm), as a party of four we had to wait a little while to be seated. We were briefly part of an ebbing and flowing queue spilling out onto the pavement. Not the ideal evening to be waiting outdoors (the temperature has taken a seasonal nosedive), but the friendly and attentive staff more than made up for it by offering around freshly made piping-hot pizza and drinks, so we were warmed, encouraged, heartened and given a taste of the dinner ahead! Indeed they were particularly attentive to the needs of Thoroughly Merton Milly (noting that she looked frozen and was visibly flagging with fatigue and hunger), ushering her into the warmth of the restaurant's entrance lobby as soon as there was space.
When we were finally seated, we were shown to a great table, 'ringside' seating to the open kitchen area and pizza oven. It was a bit of a squash and a squeeze edging past nearby diners to get there with our bags, but once seated we didn't feel particularly 'on top' of them. I would however be curious to see how a family with babe-in-buggy (and someone in a wheelchair) would easily be accommodated - there was not much unused floor space.
Service was slick without being fast-food speedy, and our pizzas (the tween and teen both opted for a No.2 (margherita), me for a No.5 (with capers, anchovies & olives) and DH for a No.6 (with chorizo) arrived within five minutes of ordering them. Was a bit disappointed though that we weren't offered the delicious-looking anti-pasti (including buffalo mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke and bresaola) detailed on the large blackboard towards the front of the restaurant (they're not listed on the menu). Moreover our waiter didn't query whether we wanted any 'extra toppings' (listed as between £0.50 and £2 on the menu but not actually named!). Our pizzas were generously-sized and delicious (and I'm not generally a fan). The Teen Sensation, ravenous after missing lunch for some school 'house' tournament, ate his in a matter of minutes, spontaneously announcing that it was "the best pizza I've ever eaten." Mine included my favourite ingredients but I did find it a tad salty (it cried out for an accompanying mixed leaf salad to offset it, on the menu but which I'd overlooked ordering). Thoroughly Merton Milly struggled thro' half of hers (she's not got a large appetite) and commented that she wished it had come as a smaller one (it was off-puttingly large for a non-greedy child). However the staff suggested that it could be boxed and taken home, which pleased her (cold pizza for breakfast, anyone?). DH commented that his could have done with more 'fire' (chilli). The Teen Sensation did however point out that there was chilli oil on the table which DH hadn't noticed!
Dessert (I challenge many people to have room for one), neither listed on the menu nor on the black menu board, was a choice of lemon or chocolate cake and vanilla ice-cream. Teen and tween (children always seem able to have a 'pudding stomach' even when they claim to be full of main course, have you noticed?) opted for the chocolate one (which seemed nutty?). Cake portion size was possibly too large even for most adults with hearty appetites - would suggest reducing by half and Franco Manca would still have happy diners (and increase profit margins)! Not sure whether the dessert menu changes on a daily basis, but carb-heavy cake would not be my choice of 'pud' after a pizza main course - ices and/or tiramisu would be more appealing alternatives. It was a pity because it almost seemed like an American touch to an otherwise authentically Italian experience, food-wise.
Price-wise, Franca Manca offers appealing affordability, with the six pizza options ranging from £4.50 - £6.95 (without extra toppings), coming in much cheaper than nearby Pizza Express. The drinks seemed marginally cheaper too. Prices for anti-pasti and puddings not detailed on the menu board (an oversight?) so couldn't comment on those (although I'd be surprised if they weren't in line with other costings). And pleased to see that 'all tips go to the staff' who more than deserved to be rewarded for their enthusiasm, treading a fine line twixt being attentive without being intrusive.
And a small but important touch for me was that our waiter checked regularly in passing to see how we were getting on with our pizzas (we all finished at different times, with at least 20 minutes twixt Teen Sensation wolfing his down and DH finishing his). He did not intrude to take away the dirty plates as and when members of the family had finished: for me this warrants an etiquette gold star. It's always been a bugbear of mine when waiting staff are too quick to clear. No-one wants to feel hurried along when eating out, and yet too many restaurant staff fail to observe (if indeed they're aware of it in the first place) one of the fundamentals of the art of good table service.
Drinks wise, the options are in line with the pizzas - strictly Italian. We drank the Croatina Rosso (fruity). The children weren't over-enamoured of the home-made lemonade (we thought it delicious though) so stuck with tap water, served from used white wine bottles (a nice touch applauded by our inner Wombles!).
We loved the vibe of Franco Manca, although I'm not sure it's marketed to be a family restaurant per se (there's no children's menu for starters, and no evident buggy parking space), but no matter. I would take school-age children there without hesitation (and the pizzas are big enough for younger ones to share). It's assuredly one that will have appeal to just-gaining independence teens (it's easily afforded from a monthly allowance!), particularly as it's opposite the Odeon cinema. Moreover, its competitive pricing, congenial atmosphere and quick service make it a welcome alternative to a sandwich lunch for office-workers and shoppers, as well as a more relaxed restaurant experience for the evening crowd.
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