In the two months that Stile Napoletano has been open, they’ve had one regular visitor, me. It’s been a weekly excursion into what I can only call a soul, and gut cleansing exorcism after years of tawdry palette abuse.
The perpetrators were, in no particular order, supermarket varieties with all the appealability of a Roy Chubby Brown comedy special and Italian restaurants that are as Italian as I am Vietnamese.
The UK has managed to get pizza wrong for a long time.
Pizza is big business, especially in Italy. It’s the food of the people and whilst there is debate in the UK and US periodicals about the best being in Japan, Australia or America, all with its salty mentions interspersed with comments like “the water makes the difference,” it doesn’t have the cultural magnitude as that of the boot-shaped peninsula.
Alas, we’re not on the boot-shaped land where the annual pizza festival draws in over half a million ‘pizza tourists’ in a three day event, moreover, we’re in Chester market. A space which, like many markets across the nation is having to rethink its purpose and future potential. It does have the capacity to be the next Altrincham market space with current vendors still having a massive say, but the politics and logistics are best left to those who plan these things and not a man who hasn’t visited for fifteen years, until Giacomo Guido opened, Stile Napoletano.
Years of protectionism from the Neapolitan federation of pizza making has seen the Neapolitan variety stall in its efforts for European domination, that was until new age pizza makers realised that they could still do it, it just took a little more time and playing in the grey areas of the rules.
Watch episode one of the hit Netflix series, Ugly Delicious, and you’ll understand what I mean. Pizza chefs around the world have taken it under their own vision to bring the essence of the Neapolitan variety into different territories. Baest run by Christian Puglisi is the prime example, it’s not about the rules, it’s about respecting the values which makes the difference.
Take a walk through London’s SOHO and you are greeted with an abundance of pizza restaurants, all eulogizing the ascension of their sourdough based, wood-fired ovens. They’re good, very good. Trips to Knightsbridge and Chelsea are the biblical sites of Santa Maria pizza, a band of Neapolitan men governing what is right and wrong about the oval shaped goodness, bringing the study of zymology to show how two ancient cultures were closer than once thought.
“Flour, yeast, water, if you were to add hops, you’d have beer,” Pasquale Chionco, co-owner of Santa Maria once told me this, his reasoning is sound; beer and pizza are the perfect heady mix. But I digress and I must return then to this gem of a market corner because tucked away is the new age pizza chef that we, a collective of Italian immigrants have been calling for.
Young and with an eye for detail, Giacomo cuts the figure of a serious pizza chef. There is a sense that science matters more than style. There is no flipping, no acrobatics, no beads of stress-induced sweat, instead, there is someone who knows that ‘the regular way,’ just won’t cut it here. The oven is electric, which means the dough needs more development. The space is only big enough to seat fifteen, but then again, does he need more? The queues on a Saturday would suggest so. There are pictures of Totó and Massimo Troisi, comedic deities to the Neapolitan public and everything is done with a sense of traditional detail.
It’s a stark difference to all the hygge inspired, Nordic interiors we’re being hit with, even for our morning flat whites. You know you’re not in Italy whilst your there, but the duo wants you to feel like you’re experiencing some of what the peninsula can offer.
The result of all of this attention to detail? The dough is light, so light, it’s probably one of the best you can find anywhere in the UK. It surprises you with that chew, yet remains airy, the way it’s meant to be; the closest I’ve tasted to this is the variety from 50 Kalo in the historic centre of Naples and that is saying something. The toppings are traditional and let’s not underestimate the queen of pizzas – the Margherita. It’s the benchmark that all pizzaiolos are compared on and it’s one of the finest.
“Each dough has a minimum 24 hour resting period,” Giacomo tells me, “the tomatoes are from San Marzano, the mozzarella from accredited Neapolitan sources.” In short, quality matters. You see that with the other toppings too. A personal, southern favourite is Salsiccia e Friarelli (Carrettiera on the menu), or Sausage and Broccoli to non-Italian speakers; a white pizza with the flavours commonly found in the mountain areas of Campania. “Pigs are farmed for all of their meat and wild broccoli is a flavour unique to Campania, it’s only right that it’s on the menu.”
Let’s be clear, this isn’t the best pizza I’ve had in the UK, it’s one of the best I’ve had in all of my travels and trust me when I say this, I know pizza. I am qualified in little else; much to the shame that this brings to the family and pure astonishment of friends and exes alike.
The perfect pizza is to some an all too rare creature, rarer than a politician with the body of an Olympic swimmer or a golfer who could recite the works of Dostoevsky. The trick then is to understand pizza, and Giacomo is closer to it than anyone else operating in this area of Chester, if not competing with those in the rest of the country.
What Chester has is a real Italian pizza gem, and what I have is my own pizzaiolo. That is something I never thought I’d be able to say again.