I had lunch with Sean this week at Saponara, just a stone’s throw from where I live. In fact it’s so close I can see it from my living room window. I like Saponara so much, I’ve been meaning to take some pictures and write a blog post for the last two years, but the weatherman (on my lunching outside days) has conspired against me! As you can see above, the restaurant has seating for at least 20 people outside on a sunny day. It’s a quiet street and easy to believe that that one has been transported to Italy for a moment or two…
Saponara is a fantastic delicatessen and pizzeria in the heart of Islington, but off the beaten track, which makes it a hidden treasure. This hasn’t, however, stopped it being voted Best Pizza in London by Time Out. The business was set up by the Saponara brothers (from a small Basilicata village in the South of Italy) in 1989. Everyone working here is Italian, so I assume they are all part of the family. The deli fridges contain the most astonishing array or stuffed tomatoes, Italian cheeses and I have never seen so many types of cured meat. The interior, reminds me of a classic 1950s bar/restaurant in Italy.
We ordered from the pizza menu (above), but the restaurant also makes its own pasta – they are always keen to show customers a little basket of the various types to aid their choice. I find it hard to get past the first pizza on the page and I have to confess that I crave it!
The pizza base is light and slightly crispy. There’s no skimping on the quality and quantity of the charcuterie and the nduja oozes umami. Nduja is spicy pork spreading sausage, flavoured with chilli, that comes from Calabria. It is said to be loosely based on French andouille, introduced to the region in the 13th Century by the Angevin, French Capetian rulers from Anjou. Nduja has some similarity in texture and use to Spanish Sobrassada, but tastes quite different (more on Sobrassada in a future post).
In spite of my pizza being piccante, I couldn’t resist a drizzle of hot chilli oil on top.
Sean ordered a margherita pizza – tomato, mozzarella and oregano, decorated with basil leaves on top. Legend has it that the margherita was invented by Raffaele Esposito (1890) in honour of the Queen of Italy (Margherita of Savoy) and the toppings represent the colours of the Italian flag. However, this is probably untrue, since pizza with the same toppings existed in Naples 100 years before that date. It is also said that the mozzarella was sliced thin and arranged on top of the tomato in a flower shape and along with the basil it resembled a daisy (Margherita in Italian). Regardless of the history, Sean ate his pizza in about 10 minutes, it was so good!
Complimenting the aromas coming from our own pizzas, there was a delicious smell of truffle wafting towards us from a table close by.
We drank San Pelligrino with our lunch, but be reassured that Saponara has a fantastic wine cellar with the house red and white starting at £12.95 a bottle.
These pizza’s are a complete meal in themselves, there’s no need for pudding, not even when it’s a greedy person like me. The most I could manage was a tiny amaretti biscuit with my cappuccino.
I can’t help feeling extremely content for several hours after eating the piccante pizza and when ordering a takeaway in the evening, I’ve noticed that there’s a fantastic happy atmosphere throughout the packed restaurant when I go to pick it up. In my opinion, this is definitely the best pizza in London – don’t tell anyone!