The Cinquecento Pizzeria journey started twelve years ago at Franco Manca’s first restaurant in Brixton, before a couple of the chefs – Carmelo Meli and Emanuele Tagliarina – decided to strike out on their own. The first Cinquecento opened in a well-heeled area of Chelsea in late 2019, with a second restaurant joining the line up in Portobello Road the following year. The Notting Hill Gate edition completes the trio.
If you live in London and get out a fair bit, you’ll know that the capital isn’t exactly lacking in pizza restaurants. Cinquecento Pizzeria’s raison d’être is, as many such places profess, to make the best Neapolitan pizza this side of Naples. At Cinquecento, this desire is expressed via a lengthy menu that’s well-seasoned with acronyms; ingredients are DOP (Denomination Protected Origin), oils are EVO (Extra Virgin Olive) and the flour is 00 (top quality stuff from Italy). Their pizza is, to quote their tagline, “just like Nonna used to make” – that is, if Nonna was from Brixton and enjoyed avocado on her bruschetta.
The interiors of Cinquecento Pizzeria have a distinctly Nonna-like vibe. Walls are split in two by an Aegean-blue skirting board and hung with fruit-patterned plates and dried flowers. Lighting is provided by vintage-looking chandeliers and an open-flame oven. The whole thing is the size of a sitting room, with powder-blue tables for two spilling out onto the pavement.
We must admit, Notting Hill Gate’s screeching sirens and Tesco Metro do not create the most romantic setting. In fact, if it’s scenery you’re after, you may be better off making like the locals and taking your burrata-topped bounty to one of the neighbouring parks – either Holland or Hyde will do. Still, it’s pizza I’m here for, and my dinner date and I approach the evening with the attitude that at least our palettes may be transported somewhere sunnier and more scenic (preferably with ourselves attached, but that’s a different matter entirely).
To start: a simple bruschetta alongside ricotta and ‘nduja polpettine (AKA Nonna’s recipe meatballs). I’m of the opinion that the quality of any Italian restaurant can be discerned through their bruschetta; if they can nail the basic bread-tomato-basil combo, chances are the rest of the menu will be pretty good. Cinquecento’s bruschetta is a thick slice of sourdough buttered with EVO oil and layered with Mini Cooper-red tomatoes, before being garnished with a feather of basil and tangle of rocket. It’s fresh, tangy and well-seasoned; an Italian job well done.
I’m also convinced that nobody knows how to pronounce ‘nduja, but it turns out it doesn’t really matter as the nose-tingling spice doesn’t make too much of an appearance in the polpettine (perhaps Nonna wasn’t a fan?). We puzzle over what they’re made of – is this pork? Beef? Lamb? – but they’re delicious regardless. A good thing, too, as you’ll find the same golf-ball-sized-globules swimming in San Marzano sauce on the Pizza Della Nonna further down the menu.
Speaking of pizzas, they arrive bearing the puffy leopard print collars that are the sign of a decent sourdough. The crust is quite something. Cinquecento (500) ignites from the temperature of the Neapolitan oven used to produce the indulging flavours and textures of the Neapolitan pizza dough. This is left to rise for up to 48 hours to create fluff and lightness for easy digestibility.
We’ve gone for a Ripieno (a ricotta-ham-salami combo that’s heavy on the ham and comes folded over like an Italian pasty) and a Burrata which, as you might guess, comes topped with an entire wobbly ball of the cheese, as well as a scattering of fried aubergine. The latter is undeniably the better choice – and not purely because I view pizza as a way to shove as much burrata into my gob as possible. The aubergines add a freshness that marries well with the tomato sauce (DOP, of course), but what you gain in taste you sacrifice in structural integrity. I love the thinness of Neapolitan-style pizza, but by God do you have to perform a feat of origami to get each slice into your mouth intact.
We drink something chilled, white and Italian, pack the remaining slices into boxes (hello, WFH lunch) and forgo the tiramisu we’ve been eyeing up a couple of tables over in favour of an affogato. It’s an excellent choice – light, creamy and a reminder that sometimes simpler really is better.
In fact, that’s how I’d sum up the entire evening. Cinquecento Pizzeria is a restaurant that strips good pizza back to the basics. Everything we eat is simple, fresh and well executed. Plus, with the most expensive pizzas sitting at the £14 mark, it’s very reasonably priced. Throw in a decent Italian wine list and lemon-splashed wallpapers and you’ve got yourself a wonderful little slice of Naples in Notting Hill – just like Nonna used to make.
To discover more, visit: cinquecentopizzeria.com
All imagery courtesy of Cinquecento Pizzeria.
View this post on Instagram