Do we really need more pizza in this town?
It’s strange, not that long ago it felt like our only choices were Italian restaurants, Planet Pizza and a few takeaways, and now we’re spoilt for choice. And so it was that we heard about the opening of Franco Manca in Bristol and – we admit it – shrugged.
Franco Manca started in Big London as the brainchild of Giuseppe Marcoli, a small premises in the now very trendy Brixton Market which has now exploded into a popular chain, with branches dotted throughout the South East, everywhere from Battersea to Bournemouth.
Bristol is the company’s first foray west of Oxford, and brings with it the promise of expertly made pizzas topped with the finest ingredients, and all for a very affordable price, with pizzas starting at £4.95.
We were lucky enough to get an invite to the launch of the Bristol branch, and shimmied over keen to see what the fuss was all about.
First impressions; does this remind anyone else of the First Dates restaurant? Just us? Okay.
To start off with, we each had an Aperol Spritz, along with some chorizo bites (£2.55), olives (£2.35) and Burrata Pugliese (£5.70). The olives were fairly standard, the chorizo bites were every bit as addictive as you’d imagine grilled slices of chorizo in a bowl to be. That Burrata though – it was beautifully soft, creamy and nicely accompanied with some sweet cherry tomatoes and rocket.
Next up we were introduced to the sharing boards (£7.95), featuring cured meats, smoked mozzarella and wild pig fennel salami – nothing mind-blowing here, but a nice start to the meal nevertheless.
On to the main event – pizza! As I mentioned before, prices start at £4.95 for a basic tomato, garlic & oregano concoction (sans cheese), or £6.40 for a Margherita, although it’s not called a Margherita, as all the pizzas are numbered rather than named.
Even the lamb sausage pizza costs a very reasonable £8.25, making this one of the most affordable pizza places in town, especially given the quality of ingredients topping said pizzas, from Gloucester Old Spot ham to friarielli (an Italian variety of broccoli – I’m a big fan).
We tried the No.3 (Wild broccoli, mozzarella and Gloucester old spot sausage), the No.54 (Mozzarella, porchetta, salsa verde and watercress) and a No.28 (Mozzarella, tomato, caramelised red onion, wild mushrooms and watercress pesto), and came out nicely cooked (slightly gloopy in the middle, but I’m fine with that as long as the base is cooked, which it was), with a decent spread of toppings.
To wash down all the carbs, we opted for a gorgeous bottle of Montepulciano (£18.50), with house wines available for £15.50 per bottle, or bottles of fizz for £20. Pretty decent I’d say – and I’d definitely recommend that Montepulciano for the sake of an extra £3.
They also make their own Grappa which the staff were keen for us to try, but I’m not a fan, so I declined. If you’re brave enough, let me know what you think – it’s made down in Devon and they seem pretty proud of it.
Finally we made it on to desserts – we were undecided so the team kindly brought out a selection (hot damn I love launch events), so we got to try the tiramisu, lemon polenta cake, ice cream and their chocolate & hazlenut cake.
The lemon polenta cake was definitely a favourite with a lovely moist texture and just light enough after a hefty meal. The tiramisu wasn’t among the best I’ve tried, but still had a decent whack of coffee and cream to keep me happy. Maybe I just need more booze in my desserts.
Service throughout was first rate – friendly, helpful and very knowledgeable. Franco Manca also stresses on its menu that all tips go to staff, a point that shouldn’t have to be made, but very necessary given the dodgy goings on at other restaurants.
We had a lush evening at Franco Manca – none of the pizzas reached the tasty heights of the Ox Cheek Ragu from Flour & Ash, the Meat & Heat from Bertha’s or The “JR” from Pi Shop, but for those on a budget in the centre of town – this is sure to be a hit.
Disclaimer doodle: This meal was free of charge but we were not asked to send any copy in advance, and all opinions are an honest reflection of our experience, obvs. (what does this mean?)