Even though it’s more than fifteen years ago now, I can still remember my first, and best, experience of Neapolitan pizza.
November 1997, Da Michele, Naples. I’d been in Italy for a few months and had already eaten some splendid pizzas when a simple Margherita, costing about 4000 Lira — the equivalent of a couple of euros now — blew my mind. I had no idea that something so simple could be so good. Previously I’d thought of pizza mainly in terms of what went on top of it but the damascene conversion I experienced while wolfing down that disc of pure deliciousness changed my point of view forever. Suddenly I knew the secret: it was all about the base.
The downside of having tasted the very best is that every pizza I’ve eaten in the years since my Da Michele moment has been a letdown. I’ve been to some excellent pizzerias, and even made some passable attempts myself, but none of them really transported me back to Naples. In Barcelona, I’ve found places to go and enjoy good pizzas made in a wood-fired ovens, but I’ve never been blown away by any of them.
Until last week.
N.A.P — Neapolitan Authentic Pizza (Av/ Francesc Cambó 30, +34 686 19 26 90, https://www.facebook.com/nap.bcn, Metro L4), near the restored Mercat Santa Caterina, isn’t Da Michele standard but it’s almost in the same league, which makes it by far the best I’ve found in Barcelona.
It’s hardly a hidden gem: foodie friends, bloggers and expat Italians have been raving about it to me for a long time, but as the low number of recent posts here will attest, I don’t get out as much these days, at least not without my kids. Fortunately, N.A.P., like any good Italian restaurant (and it is Italian — all of the staff that we heard speaking were from there) is very family friendly.
We arrived just as they were opening at lunchtime and the restaurant was empty. It’s small and simple, with a tiny wood-fired oven blazing, fresh herbs growing, and fast-moving cooks working the dough at a cramped counter.
The service we received was immediate and attentive, but I’ve heard horror stories about long waits and timing issues at busy periods. Be warned, and be prepared: there’s no way a restaurant with an oven that size could cope with big groups but if you can relax over your drink for long enough you’ll be in for a treat.
My daughter had a bruschetta to forestall any hunger pangs while the pizzas were being prepared. The bread was excellent, topped with cherry tomatoes, rocket and Parma ham. At €2.50 it wasn’t expensive but nor was it a bargain, unlike the pizzas.
Despite being tempted by a €5.50 Margherita (next time, that’s what I’ll have), and encouraged by what I read on the menu and saw being done at the kitchen counter, I compromised and chose a €7.20 Napoli; my favourite when made well but frequently an over-salty disappointment. This wasn’t. It looked great, with just the right amount of oven-charred blistering, the circumference puffed-up promisingly around a thin base.
It tasted almost as good as it looked. Quality anchovies and cheese… and, most importantly, a fantastic base. The restaurant’s Facebook page mentions that they make their own ‘mother’ yeast and it’s worth the effort. Light, delicate, perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of give: take note, pizza-makers of Barcelona, this is how it’s done.
It wasn’t perfect. The oregano had been applied with a heavy hand and it overwhelmed some of the more subtle flavours of the tomato and cheese. A pity, because this pizza really doesn’t need oregano at all, let alone a fistful of it. I would also have preferred it to have fewer olives, or even none at all, and some more capers. But that’s nit-picking: this was a first-rate pizza.
My wife went for the €7.90 Regina, with cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil and parmesan. Like the Margherita, this is marked as being made according to EU Traditional Speciality Guaranteed criteria.
Again, it was sensational. There’s not much more I can say: this is pizza as it should be.
To wrap things up we had a tiramisu (my wife’s favourite) and some panna cotta, both to share between the three of us. The desserts came in mercifully small portions after the big pizzas, just the right amount to enjoy without overloading, at €3.30 each. There was nothing wrong with the tiramisu but the panna cotta was especially good and made a convert of my wife who’s never previously been a fan.
N.A.P is a slice of authentic Napoli pizza culture in Barcelona and I’m delighted that it’s doing well. I’ll be back, hopefully soon and probably quite often.