Geographically, I find restaurants can often be lumped into two camps:
1. The central – based in the middle of London or toward the fringes of it, there’s a feeling of convenience and accessibility about these. You book your table, you turn up, you eat and it’s generally a treat to look forward to.
2. The local – favourite nearby venues, far enough out of the centre that you’d have to make a special visit if you didn’t live nearby. Sometimes they’re a compromise because you don’t want to catch the tube into town. Sometimes they’re a hidden gem.
However, somewhere in the overlap here, there’s a third possibility. The odd exciting little restaurant that you hear about which prompts an expedition out from London, far from the maddening crowd to sample its delights.
Join me, my friends, as we travel to deepest darkest Ealing to sample Santa Maria – consistently voted “The Best Pizza In London”TM
Santa Maria, Ealing
Now of course, the title is fodder – there’s no best or worst when it comes to food, just positives and negatives to each experience. But the positive buzz around Santa Maria, based about ten minutes from Ealing Broadway, stretched far enough beyond that original review to warrant a closer look.
The story is simple – two Italians, one big pizza oven from Naples and a quest for authenticity.
As we arrived and settled at our table, we passed a rambunctious Italian shouting “Arriverderci” as she wandered off with a takeaway box. Promising.
Wines can be ordered by bottle, glass or (a growing favourite of mine) carafe while a decent selection of appropriate beers and cocktails complete the beverages on offer. Personally, I often think of pizza as beer food, not wine food, but we grabbed a carafe of the (unnamed) Italian red, regardless. It did the trick, not distracting from the main event.
The pizzas on offer are a relatively basic selection compared to some of the more exotic (and some would say gimmicky/ OTT) examples out there.
My San Daniele, featuring mozarella cherry tomatoes, Parma ham, rocket, Parmesan and basil, was delicious with plenty of crunchy rocket on top and a tasty elastic base underneath. Less charred than Franco Manca, they do share stretchy bases in common but if I hadto pick one, FM might just have the edge here.
Fragrant girlfriend went with the Santa Rosa, a tasty mix of salami, aubergine and smoked mozzarella. Again, really nicely balanced and convincing tasting stuff.
To me, pizza is always about great combos of simple ingredients and Santa Maria nails that. What’s more, it’s also a takeaway setup and while we sat and ate, I did spot several locals turned around speedily with boxes of treasure.
But is it worth the trip all the way out to Ealing? If you live near Franco Manca or maybe even Pizza East, maybe not. But when the weather picks up and especially if there’s an event on Ealing Common then it can be a really nice part of a day out – especially with the nice garden at The Red Lion next door as a prelude.
If you ask nicely and sit outside the front, you can even wait for a table to become available while you order a pint. Could be enough to swing it!
<<EDITOR’S NOTE 21-09-11: Freelance tech and travel journo Donald Strachan has pointed out that actually the San Daniele pizza is A LIE. In a great Google+ comment here, he explains the difference between San Daniele ham and Parma ham. Bodes well for the various travel books he has penned. >>