La Bouf

Fifteen of the best pizzas in the world

Antony Eats in Campania

When I am in Italy I defend English food. I tell people it is not what they think. Britain is an island; travel around the coast and eat the freshest fish, local variations abound, come inland and sample the hundreds of types of cheese (a survey a couple of years ago identified more than 700 types of cheese in Britain, ahead of France and Italy), cured meats and sausage. Fertile land gives the freshest vegetables and fruits.

Even seemingly mundane dishes like Shepherd’s Pie or the Sunday roast can be elevated to the tastiest, most satisfying levels with a skilful cook and the best ingredients.

However, even though I defend English food, I cannot defend English attitudes to food. To put it very simply, no one really cares about food here. I mean, really cares. Not the way an Italian does.

Go into any supermarket and try to find more than ten types of cheese. Where is the equivalent of Parma ham? Why does no one care about bread? Bread. The stuff of life. Most bread in this country is a bleached, dry, insipid slice of white, crumbly despair. Look up the Chorleywood Process.

Yes, I know. Good(ish) bread is available. Some people buy it. But if you offer decent sourdough to someone, the most common comment is something along the lines of "that's posh". As though it were some kind of pretension. Some kind of aspirational mark of one-upmanship.

No, it's just proper fucking bread. Look at the food in the high-street.

Look at what people tolerate. Shallow versions of real food. Anywhere half decent costs enough to force you into a life of crime.

My rage is at its height at the moment, because I have just returned from the southern Italian countryside. It is exactly the opposite of England. In England, you have to work very hard to find good food, in Italy you have to work equally hard to find bad food.

In two weeks, I had everyday wonders, every day. Crusty, fresh sourdough, a soft and fluffy centre with a chewy, floury crust. Mozzarella. If you think of mozzarella as a bland, rubbery nonentity, you haven't tasted one that was made that morning, from Buffalo milk taken from a herd not five kilometres away.

Within a 15 minute car ride of our town, just north of Naples, is some of the best food I have ever tasted. We arrived in the evening, hungry from our flight and went straight to a small local restaurant. My uncle ordered a course of antipasti, and our journey began. Four or five waves of simple and complex - fresh focaccia, dribbled with olive oil and rosemary, tarts of anchovy, mozzarella dripping with milk, small cups of chopped aubergine and chickpea…

In the next few days, I gorged. A simple restaurant gave me an amazing plate of rigatoni amatriciana followed by grilled quail. My aunt made pappardelle with porcini mushrooms (picked locally by her and my uncle days before) made me wonder why I live in London. At a slightly more high-toned restaurant I ordered a baccala and guanciale starter - moist salt cod, baked with a herb crust, topped with five small strips of crunchy fried pork cheek. It made me stop talking.

And so it continued, day after day. Arancini - small balls of fluffy rice with a centre of mozzarella and ham, then coated and fried. Spit roasted chicken. Spicy mushrooms in olive oil.

And then, on the last evening, the final note of grace. We have a pizzeria that is regularly voted in the top two or three of the world. It's impossible to get a table at short notice, so my cousin, who works for the owner, ordered fifteen to take away and the family gathered around.

I understand that ‘proper’ Neapolitan pizza is increasingly available in this country, but it is still of a different order to what we had. Pillowy, slightly charred crusts, with a thin sloppy base. The basic margarita is covered in sauce made from local tomatoes, small sticky patches of mozzarella and a leaf of basil finish everything off. That's the basic. But the man is an artist, so we also get to taste the maiallino nero - a variation of the margarita drizzled with the clarified lard of the local pig breed. And then a creation and I had never even thought of, carbonara on a pizza. Parmesan cheese, ham and egg. Finally it was the scarpetta - a thicker tomato sauce and a stronger cheese. (In Italy, if you make a scarpetta - literally, little shoe - it is the act of scooping up the remnants of the sauce from your plate with a little piece of bread after you have finished your pasta.)

The person I was travelling with said it was the best and he had ever tasted, and could now never order pizza in London again.

My cousin has a pizza oven in his garden and occasionally he makes pizza. It is better than most anything you can find in this country. My cousin is a nurse.

The next day, at the airport for our departure, I bought five sfogliatelle at one of the outlets. These are little triangles of pastry shaped into ribbons to enclose a light creamy lemony interior. Italians don't even tolerate bad food at airports.

I know there are compensations living in London; food from all over the world, and quality is available if you search hard and are willing to pay. Italy is the place for Italian food, especially in country regions, it is not the place to look for crispy duck, or tasty Indian food. But if you want variation, just travel. Northern Italy is a different cuisine. Sicily is a different world again, with its own wonders. But everywhere, people care.

13 Seprember 2019


=== Antony Buonomo Art &


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Canal vs Street Food

King Roti, Doric Way

London has become so greedy that no amount of restaurants, gourmet pubs, kebab and fish & chip shops, sausage-kiosks, salad and ready-meal bars seems ever to suffice. 

Passing through Exmouth Market the other day,  I thought the Borough of Islington should encourage the Second Floor, bunk beds, Food Stool System. After queuing for 20 mins without getting any nearer to the food, with the sole advantage being the sun shining in my face, I eventually left not wanting to be late for an appointment. A neighbouring  vendor, having already sold all his food, was cleaning massive cauldrons, the time only being 1245.  
The previous day was more successful, having just eaten my Canal sandwich on the street, too hungry to wait to reach the canal, I passed the street food pop up Roti King. I wouldn't have stopped if it wasn't for the famous food-reviewer, Mr X queuing outside  while his photographer took pictures of him from all sides. With a whole hour and a half spare, I decided to sacrifice my canal-time and give it a try. Well it turned out that it is not only my canal time I am sacrificing, but  the  citty-hicking time as well (part of my programme, "Get ready for the consequences of WW3"); as the waiting time for my  lamb curry and roti portion was way longer than the waiting time in any random Bayron or Cote. The roti was excellent, especially because I was seeing its making process. As for the Lamb curry;  thin and tasting as if made of curry powder... My own curry, made of all-by-myself-chopped onion, garlic, chillipepper, ginger, coriander, lemon, mustard seeds etc etc  is much nicer except only that there is never any lamb in it with P being vegetarian since childhood. In short, King Roti is a street-food place that I might visit next only when the streets are very cold and wet and I have plenty of street hours. What saved the whole experience for me, so that I want to ever recall it by writing,was the sexiest conversation I've heard in ages. This was an all English language conversation about ??? tests extracted from ??? cells, which for now are only used in beauty products but might be used in breast cancer treatment and the treatment of ??? of ???. This incomprehensible duo consisted of a sexy young euro-asiatic and a bolding german and transported me to the blessed time when, knowing no English, all l rock'n'roll tunes sounded mysteriously sophisticated; especially in the bits where certain phrases sounded like saying in my native language things like "mother cries??? Snake  hanging from a  tree???? How are you George". And then I could fill  the gaps according to my mood for the day... Much better than when gradually, with learning English, all the mystery has gone, turning the phrases to banalities like "Don't you want me baby? Don't you want me aaa aaa ha". It's like coming down from potent hallucinogenic mushrooms. Anyhooo, despite the high-level, imagination-liberating conversation, and the physical intimacy of the tiny tables where I was sittimg cheek-to-cheek with the Bold facing the Sexy, whom on their turn were sitting cheek-to-cheek on the other side with an office-grey young couple. I caught myself twice thinking of doung a runner,  based on the conviction  that street-food waiting time ahould be exactly the same as for an espressi, which is  from 0 to 2 min max, unless you arrive at 7am, when all the machines are cold. 
Last but not least, proper street food (endless waiting, now inseparable from its concept, included) is to be found at the  corner of Russell Square between SOAS and the Brunei Gallery (which is always militant therefore exciting to visit). It's vegan, it's Bhudist, it's free, it is Streer Food!!! Strange to look at, but tasty they say.
Queuing starts at 1200 precisely; by 1300 all food is gone. They appreciate it if you bring your own eating tools.
On a early perfect diagonal, The Conduit Coffee Shop, at the corner of Lambs Conduit Street and Great Ormond Street, offers Free Lunch for Homeless, from 1530 to 1630. Haven't ask them whether they judgele who  to serve by appearance. Will have to check it.
As a conclusion, this summer I will opt for Canal Sandwiches and salad boxes. Or a pub garden lunch. With the important lesson learnt from my brief Street Food experience, the pub or canal bit should be near a very nerdy institution so that my lunch may be stimulated by a sexy,incomprehensible, scientific conversations Any ideas?