Tall Stories: Eat, Pray, Pizza
Why does pizza in the movies always looks so good?
Do you think about pizza as much as I do? It can’t just be me. Do you get the sudden urge to dial one in whenever you see someone enjoying a large slice of pepperoni passion? I start to stare a little too hard when there’s a New York slice on the silver screen; or big screen, or any screen come to think of it. It could be my own greed getting the better of me again, but I swear on film those pizza pies are beautiful. Like art, that you can eat. And potentially share if you’re in a good mood.
There is the infamous opening scene of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Surrounded by all the sounds and colours of New York only to pause for pizza from Lenny’s on 86th. His order is served fresh from the window of an Italian Pizzeria and looks both impossibly juicy and crispy. He stacks two slices on top of each other and takes a huge bite whilst continuing to strut to Stayin’ Alive. It makes you want to book a flight to the big apple within minutes.
Bustling families gathering around towers of pizza boxes in both Back to the Future and Home Alone come to mind. All playfully fighting over their favourite flavour, Tom & Jerry siblings and Big Pop getting the first slice. The perfect picture of family life in the late eighties and nineties. The pizzas are all perfect, just like their scripted lives. Each box is longer than a metre wide, always taking a couple of children to open and unveil a bubbling cheese disc. All identical. Everything from the size slice, yellowed colouring and layers upon layers of melted cheese – it all looks too good to be true. And of course, I am no fool. It’s Hollywood doing its thing. Star Wars isn’t filmed in space, Superman can’t fly, Jonny Depp isn’t real either and pizza can never be that good. But I dream of pizza that good. So, it must exist somewhere.
The dominating delivery dudes just don’t do it well enough. Our long-standing relationships with the big dogs as a consumer fuelled by hangovers and good marketing have gone too far. Their drive for automated consistency, volume sales and franchisees have led them to forget what the customer really wants; Fresh, real pizza made with the best ingredients.
Is sharing a pizza the new breaking of bread?
Not saved for the ritualistic ordering after a heavy night out, you can have pizza for breakfast, lunch or dinner and it be okay. No one will judge. Unless you start waiting outside Pizza Pilgrims for them to open on a midday Monday. Then, speaking from experience, you will be judged.
Everyone has their favourite naughty pizza brand and support their sides harder than any football derby I have ever seen. Dominos verses Pizza Hut was popular rivalry to follow from a few years ago, but choice was limited back then. Not too dissimilar to the Brit-Pop battle between Blur and Oasis. Whilst on memory lane we should not forget the original date night restaurant that pretty much started the casual dining scene in Britain. I wonder how many relationships Pizza Express is responsible for making and mending in the mid to late 90s.
I suppose the cool thing about life is that we’re all different. Some people put pineapple on their pizza. Most of us don’t. All our eclectic tastes come together to teach and guide for better or worse. That’s community. That’s compromise. But your choice of delivery pizza is more than important. It’s a deal breaker. I have ended relationships because they ordered from Papa Johns. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and people’s tastes do change over time. But with pizza you can be wrong. Very wrong.
The rules go as follows; Dominos beats Pizza Hut every time. Firezza is too dry to enjoy. Red Planet is rough no matter where you live. No one in their right mind needs to eat a double decadence layered pizza, or order a stuffed crust, especially a hot dog stuff crust, and Papa Johns is pure slop. Most importantly the top trump is an authentic wood fire or stone baked Italian pizza. This wins above all without question. If you disagree, then you are wrong. And need to learn about good pizza.
Of course, it can get a little excessive. Joey from Friends ordering his ‘Joey Special’ and lovingly locking eyes with a piece almost every episode, or Philip Seymour Hoffman claiming that ‘the grease is the best part’ in Along Came Polly goes a step too far. But they aren’t trying to be role models, but they are thankfully ordering and eating pizza the right way.
Can you get a pizza in real life that looks (and tastes) as good as the movies?
The answer is yes, the perfect pizza does exist. And it’s on Baker Street, London. Not just a tourist attraction for Sherlock and his adventures. This understated, under the radar restaurant hits all the right notes from beginning to end.
The origins of L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele start in Naples in 1870, where Michele Condurro, (note: the son of Salvatore), was perfecting the family art of pizza making. Learning from the masters in Torre Annunziata who were experts in the preparing and kneading of pizza dough, and the cooking of pizza. 35 years later in 1906 Michele opens up his first pizzeria in Ascale and then in 1930, the pizzeria was transferred to its present location on Via Cesare Sersale where the pizzeria still stands today.
If you’re not into your Italian geography. They are started in the Mid-North and ended up on the west coast of Italy, in Naples (or half-way up the leg, above the boot)
The family is very proud of their heritage, still sticking to the wise words and rules of their grandfather. “That there are only two types of Neapolitan Pizza, the “Marinara” and the “Margherita”; and no “junk” should be used in making the pizza that could alter its world famous genuineness and taste. The secret of Da Michele’s enduring success is in the use of natural ingredients, and of an old, traditional, time-tested method of leavening pizza dough.”
I was already three slices deep and loving life when I was told of a Julia Roberts scene where she declares her love for a pizza. I had not seen or read Eat, Pray, Love – but it seemed my warm hosts duty to explain the plot to me in peppercorn detail. He told me of how travellers followed the books journey all around the world; to Bali, Paris and London. And on their pilgrimage they would visit this very pizzeria. Why? Because it was their pizza she was fawning over.
Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love
It then hit me. I had finally found my perfect movie pizza without even knowing it.
This restaurant is the epitome of ‘Se non si è rotta, non aggiustrarlo’. With strictly the same recipes used since 1906, expertly hand rolling the same dough day on day, using the same suppliers from their home country are the stand-out reasons why L’Antica da Michele is just so good.
The bloodline runs thick in this family, with the same strong features still prominent in the faces of the all staff. Michele was a clearly a busy man with 13 sons and no doubt had them all on the floor or in the kitchen from a very young age. Thick Italian accents of the waiters narrate you through the menu, humbly dancing through his heritage via the mains, toppings and sides. What you feel in this space is very rare. This is authentic. This is real Italia.
Watching the chefs lazily put my pizza together was comical. Thick, salt and pepper eyebrows rise underneath white paper hats as more orders come through. Anything other than their father’s original pizzas is a chore worthy of loud pan clatters, raised arms and flared voices. All part of the charm. It is clear they could work with their eyes closed morning, noon and night. They clearly have fun with it. And seem to work with such style only an Italian could holda. Expertly tossed dough, fire truck red tomato sauce generously slopped to the sides with islands of mozzarella, parting in the wood fired heat tell a warm tale of their Italian story.
This is worlds away from the robot-like people behind the windows of Dominos. Watching their staff put a pizza together with their heads down in their stations is depressing in comparison to how the Italians do it here.
Here pizza making is a craft. A true craft. At L’Antica da Michele they take it to a different level. The pizza arrived within minutes. Always a great sign. The crust was bendy with a good crunch throughout. The sauce popped with a tomato zest that was potent but light, the sauce was almost too wet, drinkable, but landed in a great way. The extra juice is never ending, ensuring every slice of your pizza is never dulled or dry – It was sloppy from the start, 'double mozzarella' streaming everywhere – the unforgettable favours and tastes reminding you that this dish was the original Italian street food. Back then the base of the pizzas was used a crusty bread bowl, you were meant to fold the pizza over to keep all the sauce and goodness in. Plus, it made your meal portable. No need to sit down, it was the birth of the take-away.
Delicious in every way, this pizzeria is a must visit in London or Italy. Frozen in time by their own values and Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, and with the knowledge that “the best pizza in Italy is from Naples and the best pizza in the world is from Italy, which means that pizzeria must offer... I'm almost too superstitious to say it... the best pizza in the world?”
I implore you to visit this long standing and brilliant family business to try easily the best pizza in London and make this pizzeria a new family tradition.
L’antica Pizzeria da Michele
199 Baker Street, London, NW1 6UY