In the theme of Spring soft launches, a pizza-themed one was unmissable for both my family and I, especially as this one was at Santa Maria pizzeria which has recently set up shop in Chelsea. Santa Maria has a renowned reputation. Within weeks of the opening of its original branch in Ealing back in 2010 – where I’d enjoyed a spectacular pizza – it was voted as serving the best pizza in London. The food critique Andy Hayler also describes the pizza “genuinely excellent”. It’s definitely as good as, if not more authentic and better than, Homeslice.
Named after its original branch on St. Mary’s Road, the pizzeria was set up by Pasquale Chionchio and Angelo Ambrosio who, having worked for many years in several restaurants and pizzerias all over London, decided to embark on their own adventure. It’s moto – much like Padella’s – is “quality and quantity at honest prices”. And it was certainly honest prices, especially during a soft launch, with 50% off all food, as well as generous complementary drinks due to the slight delay for our table to be ready. Whilst we waited, our waitress presented us with deliciously fresh lemon and mint cocktails. This definitely made up for the fact that I’d missed out on the first two days of their opening, during which they were serving complementary magherita pizzas as they trialled their pizza ovens and sourdough bases!
Nestled between the King’s Road and Fulham Road, and round the corner from Wandsworth Bridge, the new restaurant is in a prime location, and in total contrast to its original outpost, can seat 60. Indeed, a major ambition of its owners was to have a larger restaurant, unlike the pocket-sized Ealing pizzeria. As they explain, “it’s frustrating having a small place where you can’t make a whole family happy…In the Chelsea site your 12 people leaving do will finally be possible.” It’s likely they were also addressing one of the major criticisms of the Ealing branch – as its busy, you can be subject to a sometimes rushed service which has raised plenty of eyebrows. There’s an “order, eat and leave” attitude – “tipico napoletano”– which plenty have found off-putting; it’s certainly not the place where you can linger. The Chelsea branch – in total contrast – is perfect for a sociable and long meal.
Like their owners, the pizzas are authentically Neapolitan and made using a wood-fired oven imported from Italy. Indeed, finding nowhere in London to match the pizza of their upbringing, the founders set about recreating an authentic slice of Naples. Everything – from the pizza oven made out of sand and dust from Mount Vesuvius, to the Caputo flour and parmigiano reggiano – is imported. The lightly salted dough is also given a 24-hour rise; the tomatoes are crushed by hand; and the mozzarella is cut in precise pieces that melt just-so.
The menu is very Italian and in this theme we ordered bruschetta to start, which was generously topped with freshly diced tomatoes and basil. For mains, we shared all the vegetarian pizzas: Santa Bufalina (£8.95) of tomato sauce, buffalo D.O.C. mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan, and fresh basil; San Francesco (£9.45) of tomato sauce, Italian mozzarella, artichokes, courgettes, aubergines, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, and fresh basil; and San Mattia of buffalo DO.C. mozzarella, mushrooms, truffle oil, parmesan cheese savings and fresh basil; and a Buratta one (£10.95). The pizzas were sensational. And this was not just because I was absolutely starving by this point. The quality of the tomato sauce was outstanding, as well as the deliciously creamy cheeses, especially the buratta.
Probably the best pizza of the evening for me was the Bianca truffle pizza which certainly trumps the mushroom pizza served as Homeslice which is seasoned with a peculiar soya sauce! Here, the truffle flavour is rich and the addition of the garlic and parmesan is a wonderful combination.
Best of all, all the pizzas are served with bucket-loads of cultural pride and were charred to loveliness, giving the pizza a beautifully chewy base. And generously portioned, they’re all very filling – such that four pizza between the five of us were plenty.
For afters, we shared a couple of scoops of hazelnut and pistachio gelato as the nutty options are always the best when it comes to Italian ice-cream. This was especially the case here as the hazelnut ice cream was studded with chunks of the crunchy nuts. My companions also enjoyed cappuccinos on the side, and although probably made by a machine, the Lavazza beans were top notch.
Santa Maria – for its pizza, its setting, the service, and the conviviality of the whole experience – is probably my favourite pizzeria in London.
Santa Maria, 92-94 Waterford Road, London SW6 2HA