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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Dianne Bourne

"I ate 'the world's best pizza' in Manchester surrounded by bling and hot pink neon lights... it was an education"

For those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s around Manchester, the likelihood was your first taste of restaurant pizza came courtesy of a rather large, fat-soaked deep pan at Pizza Hut. Indeed, for many years, I thought that was just what all pizzas tasted like.

I've managed to expand my horizons a tad since then and consumed some of the best and wildest pizzas that Manchester, nay, the world can offer. Although to be fair I've never eaten one in the very home of pizza itself - the Italian city of Naples.

However Napoli has very handily just come direct to us here in Manchester of late. Because the Italian city's most famous pizza parlour has opened a quite extraordinary offshoot in the city centre.

Read more: I ate 4,000 calories in one meal at The Ivy - and I only have one regret

L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele was founded by the Condurro family in Naples back in 1870, creating the simple yet stunning margherita and marinara pizzas that remain their staple to this day. L'Antica fast became known for "serving the best pizza in Naples" which, being the home of pizza, is considered just about the highest accolade you can get.

Michele Condurro opened his first restaurant in Naples in 1906 and his face remains as the emblem, featuring on the menus and the napkins in Naples. And now here in the UK where branches have begun to spring up in London and the latest in Manchester.

Given this place's history and pedigree, and the extremely swanky fit-out they've given to this place on King Street, it all opened rather quietly without pomp or ceremony back in December. Although I suppose we were all rather preoccupied at that point with the "will-we, won't-we" of yet another lockdown.

Dripping with glamour at L'Antica (MEN)

But this is a place that needs, demands, to be seen to be believed - I mean just look at it. It's practically dripping with glamour.

Huge chandeliers dangle down from the old Lloyds Bank building's extraordinary vaulted stained glass ceilings like crystal stalactites. Powder puff pink booths and chairs bring light to the shining black marble floor.

Flashy neons at the heart of the restaurant (MEN)

A flashy hot pink neon at the heart of the restaurant is just begging you to fill your Instagram stories with it, screaming: "I want someone to look at me the way I look at pizza".

Although just to be clear, I very much do NOT want someone to look at me the way I look at pizza. Because the way I look at pizza might best be described as "like a fevered gerbil".

Dianne looks at a pizza like a fevered gerbil (MEN)

Julia Roberts, yes the Hollywood film star, looms large on a video screen behind a large banqueting table at the rear of the restaurant. She's become the sort of patron saint of pizza since her star turn in hit movie Eat Pray Love back in 2011.

In the film she famously ate one of L'Antica's margheritas in Naples before stating: "I'm in love... I'm having a relationship with my pizza", while her friend moaned about calories. Her emphatic, some might say a tad erotic, pizza-eating in those scenes has earned her a place in photos all over the restaurant - even in the ladies' loos.

I don't know if it was Julia's attempts at juggling her drooping triangle of Neopolitan pizza in that famous scene, or my dislike for getting my hands dirty, but I've never been that keen on this style of pizza. Or so I thought. I mean let's face it, it's the antithesis of those rigid deep pans of my youth.

Julia Roberts looms large at L'Antica (MEN)

The secret to L'Antica's success is said to be in the time-honoured tradition of leavening pizza dough and only using natural ingredients in both the pizza and the toppings. On the menu here in Manchester you can get the venue's "famous" double cheese margherita for £11.90, and their equally famous marinara (that's a cheese-free pizza with tomato sauce, oregano, garlic and seed soy oil) for £8.90.

There's also a full range of pasta dishes, including a signature carbonara for £13.90 (which I tested and my word this dish was good), truffle ravioli for £19.90 and for those pushing the boat out a linguine lobster at £25.90. For the real show-boaters, I mean c'mon you know we are on King Street, you can also order a £69 Japanese Waygyu steak.

The classic carbonara at Pizzeria Da Michele (MEN)

Drinks are also on the tad expensive side, with my glass of pleasant-enough prosecco weighing in at £8.90, and indeed most wines by the glass starting at around this price on the menu. There's an extensive cocktail list, all shaken up at the jaw-droppingly well-stocked bar behind its vast marble top by the entrance.

But naturally, I'm here for the pizza. And I'm joined for the occasion by a pal who has been to the actual Pizzeria Da Michele in Naples to get as close to an "expert" view as I'm likely to get.

I tell him my worries that I'm just not that fond of the Neapolitan style as I "find it a bit sloppy so I use my knife and fork". He looks a little shocked and tells me straight away that's where I've been going wrong.

Do not attempt with knife and fork (MEN)

"The Italians eat it like a sandwich, so you fold it over and shove it all in," I'm informed. My mind is blown, I've been eating it wrong all these years.

Grasping a large, sloppy slice of the Napoletana (£12.95) I've ordered I fold it over to allow the rich gloopy swirl of tomato sauce, Agerola fior di latte cheese and olives to intensely marinate inside the doughy pocket. He's right, it makes it easier to hold - and to shove into my mouth.

I mean clearly it doesn't look as appealing as the way Julia Roberts tantalisingly eats it in the movie, but my god it tastes good. It also allows the exquisite, simple beauty of the dough to shine just as much as the innards.

Dianne folds her pizza for maximum enjoyment (MEN)

My friend has opted for the classic "half and half" option the marita (£11.90) showcasing the venue's two classic styles of margherita and marinara. I try both sides of the divide and it's as close to pizza perfection as you're likely to get.

It also gets his seal of approval for being "damn close" to the Napoli pizza experience too. Although over there, there's a raffle system to even get through the door the pizza is in such high demand.

Thankfully here in Manchester you can book your table in advance, and I've been able to walk-in for a table since this visit too. Maybe the cat isn't quite out of the bag yet as to how good this place is.

Don't let the blingy interiors and the neons distract you. Because for me this was one of the best pizza experiences I've had yet in Manchester.

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