Sooner or later, you have to take a stand.
They serve the best pizza in the world in Naples, Italy. They just do.
I’ve eaten them all over the world. So I know all about New York City, London and Melbourne, and I’ve had great pizzas – really great pizzas – in Portland, Singapore and Auckland.
But there’s something about eating pizza in its birthplace – and yes, I also know all about Ancient Egyptian flatbreads and medieval Turkish pide. Let’s just agree that modern pizza was born in Naples (it’s not called a pizza napolitana for nothing folks!) and then we can all get on with figuring out which Neapolitan pizzeria is the best.
And with that simple enquiry I have just started an argument on every street corner in Naples, because – as you might imagine – it’s a hotly contested issue.
Unless you’ve got several lifetimes to spare, and a love of operatic shouting matches bordering on brawls, then this is probably one instance when it’s wise not to ask a local where the best place to eat is.
Some, for example, are going to tell you about the Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, supposedly the oldest pizzeria in Naples (and Italy, and the world, etc). Founded in 1738 and an atmospheric old-town setting, yes – but not the best pizza in the city.
Others are going to argue for Di Matteo, where they take a calzone and they fry it – oh yes they do. It’s magnificent, but it’s not the best pizza in the city.
Everyone will stop fighting for a second and suggest you should at least go and have a look at Da Michele. A look is probably all you’ll get, because – since Jullia Roberts ate here in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ – getting a table involves leaving your name, standing outside in a frenzied crowd, recognising the mangled Italian version of your name and fighting through said crowd before someone nabs your table. Also know that Da Michele is Serious Pizza. They only serve two types, margherita and marinara, both of which are fabulous and ridiculously cheap – but they’re still not the best pizzas in the city.
And the winner is …
Frankly, I’d slip away while they are all still arguing and head for my favourite, the peerless Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo. Like most of the other good places in Naples, it’s nothing much to look at, inside or out. The point – the only point – is the pizza, which generally arrives at your table about two minutes after you’ve placed your order. This is because it’s been cooked in a wood-fired thermo-nuclear bee-hive oven at about 900 degrees. Tomatoes? San Marzano. Cheese? Mozzarrella di bufala campana. Crust? Bubbled, blackened and smokey.
There are a few other things you can put on the pizza, but if you’re expecting sweetcorn, barbecue chicken, glazed red onions or – hello Sweden, salt cod – you are so in the wrong place. I’m not sure there is actually anything else on the menu – no appetisers, no salads, no mains, no fries. You can have a beer or you can have a tiny aircraft-style bottle of wine for one. You can have a really tiny espresso at the end.
I hope this doesn’t sound disappointing. It is one of the planet’s most extraordinary restaurant experiences. It is very reasonably priced. You don’t need to book weeks or months in advance. You don’t need to speak Italian. You do need to appreciate pizza.
So there it is. Gino Sorbillo. The best pizza in Naples, Italy, the World, the Universe, and, heck why not, the whole darn Multiverse.