“This pizza is so soggy and wet, I can hardly pick it up!” we hear someone say at the next table.
Welcome to the tradition of the Neapolitan style pizza that has made Via Napoli Pizzeria in North Shore’s Lane Cove one of the busiest pizza parlours in Sydney.
If you are used to that crispy thin-crust pizza with loads of toppings piled high, you better re-adjust your expectations for this pizza madhouse that packs in a cult following every single day.
So here are some vital stats about the Neapolitan style pizza for first-timers according to Naples-born pizza chef and owner Luigi Esposito:
- San Marzano tomatoes, imported fior di latte mozzarella, Caputo flour and olive oil are used in making the pizzas;
- The base of the pizzas are hand-kneaded as opposed to using a rolling pin and are no more than 35 centimetres in diameter and less than a third of a centimetre in the centre;
- The pizzas are baked in a wood-fire oven at 251 degrees Celsius (485 degrees Fahrenheit) for no more than 60 -90 seconds.
The Italian government is reported to have even issued strict guidelines as to what constitute a Neapolitan style pizza to preserve its authenticity and cultural history. These guidelines pertain to among other factors, the size, diameter and thickness, origins of key ingredients such as tomatoes and mozzarella, oven temperate and cooking time.
Thirteen-inch (33 centimetres), half metre or one metre are the choice of pizza sizes on the menu.
The four pasta choices look to be intentionally limited since Via Napoli is a pizzeria rather than an Italian restaurant.
Judging by the full-house this Thursday evening, it seems people are here for pizza rather than pasta and I doubt there is a single table at this restaurant that has not ordered at least one pizza.
The prosciutteria section of the restaurant dishes out a range of Italian style ham, salumi, cured meats and cheese platters.
As we wait for our table, I wander around to check out the pizza chefs who are literally pumping out pizzas from the wood-fire oven by the minute. The atmosphere is noisy and the al fresco area fronting Austin street has some traffic noise to add for good measure.
The waiters are obliging when it comes to photo-taking. Too obliging perhaps when they willingly stick their heads and smiling faces into the camera as I try to snap some still shots of the restaurant.
As far as service is concerned, the waiters seem a little frantic, shouting orders in their heavy Italian accents. They are in a pressure cooker since every table is occupied and even more people begin waiting in queue.
At $62 each, most of the metre long pizzas seem to be fantastic value and a popular choice with larger groups of diners.
Cameras and mobile phones are whipped out whenever a metre long arrives and there is no shortage of photo snapping before tucking in.
The menu says the Margherita with San Marzano tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil and olive oil is the signature pizza.
And this is what you can expect when our 13-inch Margherita hits the table. It is generally smaller than other styles of pizza. So the average pizza punter with a good appetite should be able to finish one entire pizza on his own.
If you have truly never tried this style of pizza, then you need to prepare yourself for pizza with a ‘wet’ and ‘soggy’ centre. For the Margherita, there is no topping other than some fresh basil leaves, a generous amount of sauce, olive oil and mozzarella melting in a hot molten centre.
Although the bread is thick and fluffy around the rim, it is quite difficult to pick up with your hands and some will find it easier using a fork and knife.
Handling logistics aside, the flavours of basil, cheese, tomato and olive oil is hard to beat.
Our waiter warns us the Diavola has a real chilli kick but fortunately I have a strong tolerance for spicy food.
“Bring it on!!” I say to our waiter. “And bring us some fresh chillies with some olive oil too” I add.
The hot salami in the Diavola has a good level of spiciness but it’s not burning my palate so I add some fresh chillies to liven it up even more.
The quirkiness of the Neapolitan style pizza is that some pizzerias don’t even slice it up and they may come whole like a pie straight from the oven. The molten centre with its piping hot sauce needs to be contained and slicing it up might mean sauce spillage.
The metre long pizza definitely makes a good photo and something to write home about.
This is our second visit to Via Napoli because we were a little intrigued by the ‘wet’ and ‘soggy’ experience of our first visit.
My tip for tackling the soft and limp Neapolitan pizza slice is to use your fork and knife. But for me, I think it’s easier and more enjoyable to simply roll up each slice and eat it like a doner kebab.
Flavours are good so whether it’s fork and knife or bare hands, each mouthful is pretty satisfying.
So dear readers, have you tried a Neapolitan pizza before and if so, do you prefer it to the thin-crust pizza?
Via Napoli Pizzeria
141 Longueville road, Lane Cove
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9428 3297
Opening hours: Monday 5pm – 10pm Tuesday – Sunday 12pm – 10pm