Taking Brighton by Storm

Brighton Food Reviewer, Sarah Gathercole, Aug 2016

Franco Manca is one of Brighton’s newest restaurants and already one of its most popular. Having already tested the water across London since 2008, Franco Manca has now arrived in Brighton.

It’s safe to say our city has cemented itself as a hotspot for fantastic food.

There is no shortage of great places to eat – old and new – and there is always a willing bunch of ‘foodies’ waiting with baited breathe to visit the new kid on the block.  And I am one of these foodies.  

outside of franco manca signage brighton

 

This is not my first visit to Franco Manca, in fact it is my third, which is saying something in the face of all this choice. I was lured in prior to them opening. Walking through the Laine with my partner in tow, we spotted a friendly looking guy with a tray… that could mean only one thing!  Free food up for grabs, no wait… even better, free pizza up for grabs.  I was sold after that very first bite.  ‘When do you open’ I asked him excitedly and the rest is history.

An Honest Chain Restaurant

So here I am again, but this time with a purpose aside from stuffing my face with as much yummy pizza as I can take. I really want to do this place justice, as I quite simply love it. It is not an independent, as I mentioned earlier, however it has managed to retain the feel of it. I imagine the Franco Manca I am sat in today, is not so far removed from their very first restaurant (except perhaps the size).

pizza chef at franco manca in brighton

Everything about Franco Manca is simple: The menu, the décor, the ethos, the website I am using for reference as I write this review. There is an honesty about this place that is not always achievable with chains. The staff are happy, in fact I would go as far as to say some of the happiest I have ever encountered. From the minute you walk through the doors at Franco Manca you know you have made the right choice.

Keeping it Simple

Now enough of my gushing… what about the food I hear you cry!  Well let me tell you about the menu at Franco Manca, as there are many endearing qualities. Did I already say simple… well I’ll say it again. Keep it simple and you can’t go wrong.  Franco Manca offers you six delicious sounding pizzas and two daily specials – one veg and one meat.  And believe me they’ve got it covered in those eight. They have a small selection of drinks: organic wine – no pesticides, herbicides, chemicals or fertilisers, craft beers – no logos, and soft drinks – no cola (another nice touch in my opinion)!

close up of menu at franco manca brighton

The menu educates: for those who are interested you will learn that their ‘pizza is made from slow-rising sourdough and is baked in a wood-burning ‘Tuff’ brick oven made in Naples by a specialised artisan’. The whole cooking process results in a delicious crust, often the least popular part of a pizza, you are guaranteed to enjoy it here. To reassure you that Franco Manca cares about stuff, you are told where in the world all the ingredients have come from.  In the case of the ‘soft goat’s curd’ and the ‘meat’, you are given the name of the farms. The section: ‘vegetables you are likely to see in our specials’ illustrates that Franco Manca use seasonal produce in their cooking.

And the single line at the bottom of their menu, ‘all tips go to the staff’, rounds up the image of a ‘happy home’ quite nicely.

Lots of Variety from a Small Menu

My friend and I order two glasses of organic white wine (£3.85 each) and deliberate over the pizzas. As she is a vegetarian, my friends is immediately drawn to the veggie special (£7.75). The meat special sounds fantastic too (£7.95). With tomato, mozzarella, ‘provolar cheese’, old spot pancetta, mixed peppers, capers and olives, no stone has been left unturned. It’s this or what I am already calling ‘my favourite’ – number 5 (£6.70). I may have only been three times (so far!), but I realise I have tried a slice of everything on the menu except number 3 (£6.85) – courgettes, basil, mozzarella, buffalo ricotta, Franco & Cantarelli Grana and no tomato. Suddenly this is also in the running for that very reason. Oh dear!  As the waiter approaches, I decide to go with my favourite. Number 3 can be my reason to return – not that I really need one!  

organic white wine at franco manca brighton

A Slice of Art

There is a relatively fast turn over in Franco Manca. That is not to say you are being edged out the door, it’s quite the opposite – you are more than welcome to savour your every bite. What this does mean is your pizzas arrive quickly, which is probably for the best, as it’s almost too much to bear watching our fellow diners chowing down on their doughy delights. For the price, these pizzas are big.

anchovy pizza at franco manca brighton

They are beautifully rustic and haphazard, with their toppings arranged in a kind of organised chaos.  That’s what I love about pizza – it has to be the least pretentious dish on the planet! The colours popping from my friend’s plate remind me of an artist’s palate – splodges of vivid green, reds and brilliant white, all working in perfect harmony together. My pizza is gorgeous too, the big black olives standing out on a sea of tomato and cheese.

Dough to Die For

It’s hard to describe in words why the pizzas at Franco Manco are so good – but the dough might be a good place to start.  The waiter explains in part – and I read later – that they ‘use a soft wheat flour that at the end of the long fermentation process exhausts its starch content, transforming it into noble sugars’.

chef making pizza dough at franco manca brighton

What this means to you and I is that it makes a highly digestible pizza – as ‘the enzymes have done most of the hard work for your stomach, breaking down starch and gluten’.  As someone that suffers with poor, at best erratic, digestion, this is music to my ears!  It honestly does taste better too.  This bread is full of flavour, light and moreish.

 I don’t feel sluggish and overfull, I feel really satisfied.

Local and Organic Produce

The toppings are of the highest quality.  The tomato sauce is sweet with the right amount of acidity. It will be no surprise to you that Franco Manca care about where their tomatoes come from. They use local and organic produce and avoid adding to the mass production issue found with canned tomatoes.  The vegetarian special is perfect, bringing together the best Italian flavours – fresh basil, rich pesto, creamy mozzarella (produced daily), a peppering of goat’s curd, and punchy sun-dried tomatoes.

vegetarian pizza from franco manca in brighton

My pizza is defined by the statement flavour of anchovy, along with the sharp notes of capers offsetting their saltiness.  The olives are plump, and the smooth, milky mozzarella covers my pizza like a comforting blanket. i just love anchovies – and believe they are misunderstood!  And I think they help make this pizza something quite special.  Number 5 – yes, you’re definitely my favourite!

Try for Yourself

Well, you should hopefully now know how I feel about Franco Manca, but please don’t take my word for it! Open seven days a week, there is ample opportunity to pay them a visit.  Lunch or dinner time, Franco Manca is the perfect place for a bite to eat.  Remember they don’t take bookings and the queue of eager diners outside is likely to be a permanent fixture, so give yourself a little bit of time for this.

Now brace yourselves for the finale – I might just say this is the best pizza I have ever tasted!

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