There are few foods with such universal appeal and even fewer that elicit such partisan followings. Pizza exists sui generis outside everything else that we consider a meal. There is going out to dinner and there is going out for pizza. Sometimes nothing else will do. It is entirely possible to be hungry for nothing other. It is something that you must go out for, or at the very least, something that you will wait for to be delivered, like a mutt waiting for the postman. It is a thing that demands to be shared. Bread is to be broken. The nature of that bread is the issue. There exist at least as many styles as there are sexual peccadilloes. I wonder what the pizza analogue of squid-porn (delete search history) might be?
From the sheer WTF? of Chicago deep-dish, through Sicilian ‘grandma slices’ to the cracker-like base of the Roman Tonda style, there is a pizza out there for everyone and you will probably get the one you deserve. My personal favourite is from Motorino in New York City, although Roberta’s runs it pretty close. Not that Roberta’s; the Roberta’s – the ramshackle joint in Bushwick which (arguably) kickstarted the rebrand of ‘Brooklyn.’ New York is currently in the midst of a Roman-style craze, with al taglio – ‘by the cut’ – being the most modish. These are baked in steel pans and sold by the rectangular slice. Around ten years ago however, it was Pizza Napoletana that reigned supreme. This is the natural order of things. The Neapolitan style represents the zenith of the form, the summit to which all others crane their necks. You can disagree till the buffalo come home, I’ll never know. Or care. Remarkably, Neapolitan pizza has now come of age right here in Dublin and there are a number of places getting it right. I decided to take a look at two of the newest entrants on the scene to see how they stack up against the very best in the City.
First up is Sano Pizza, opened just a month ago on Exchange St by restaurateur twins Ray and Tony McHugh (of Gallagher & Co Bistro) is a very welcome addition, not least because it’s almost perfectly equidistant between my office and domicile. The press release describes the decor as both ‘hipster style’ (think it, don’t say it) and ‘highly Instagrammable’ (ditto). It’s a bright airy space with 138 covers on two levels and it just works. You will be immediately struck by the modesty of the pricing, the pizzas (12 inch) run from €6 to €9 Euros. You could get in and out with an excellent Marinara and a glass of wine (or a Five Lamps Lager) for a tenner (minus tip) and that’s quite something in Dublin. It is very much an in-and-out kind of joint, the expected volume and turnover is why they have not one but two gas-fired Acunto ovens. This is not the heresy it might sound. They get to temperature, stay there and can produce 17 pizzas every 90 seconds. More on this later.
All pizzas display the desired elasticity and chew, the sugo is bright and fruity and the cornicione (outer rim crust) is textbook. There are two specials on the board every night, look out for the one with friarielli (turnip tops to you) and spicy sausage. The wine is every bit as good as it should be for four bucks a pour. If you are wrinkling your nose you are in the wrong place. You will struggle to find better value when it comes to eating out in Dublin. Period.
Forno 500 moved into the former Les Frere Jacques space on Dame St some months ago. That restaurant had been moribund for some time. The proposition is a little different here set next to Sano. We are still talking Pizza Napoletano but you’ll notice the difference in tone. This is reflected both in the room and in the pricing. It’s a handsome space that makes the most of its long, narrow proportions (upstairs was closed) but the lighting above our table could be used to extract information. The oven squats magnificent at the rear and crucially, it burns wood. This is the ideal. Service is homocentric in the particularly (southern) Italian way. In this at least the place is authentic. Every interaction is addressed to me, perhaps it’s presumed that my wife (and business partner) has no soldi of her own. It doesn’t go over well. We order three pizzas, a Margherita, a Napoli (olives, anchovies, garlic) and a pizza bianco with prosciutto and burrata. All three, somewhat ironically, suffer from being just undercooked. They have either been pulled too soon or the oven is not hot enough. Forno 374 doesn’t quite have the same alliterative appeal. I don’t get the kiss of woodsmoke either (beech for ignition, oak for longevity) to set the place apart from Sano. It is frustrating but maybe they are just getting to know the oven. I understand that it takes time.
The very best pizza in Dublin went through the same growing pains. Opened by the somewhat elusive Mick Ryan in 2016 as a hole-in-the-wall joint – it is literally an oven (self built) and a hatch on Aungier St – Dublin Pizza Company (DPC) represents perhaps the purest expression of Neo-Neapolitan pizza in the city. The ‘leoparding’ of the cornicione is what Instagram was meant for and their Margherita could stand shoulder to shoulder with either of the NYC places I’ve referenced. You can order it for delivery to The Red Bank and The Fourth Corner. They would be well advised to start looking at moving into a space that can accommodate some tables and some punters. It’s time to graduate. The kids are coming up from behind.
Words: Conor Stevens
Sano Pizza – 2 Upper Exchange St, Dublin 2
Dublin Pizza Company – 32 Aungier Street, Dublin 2