Via Napoli (Sion, Mumbai)

I am aware that by writing a review of such excessive intricacy on the preparation and sampling of a humble pizza (the Italian man’s daal chawal) I’m at risk of making myself look incredibly de trop, even borderline insane. But it is with this caveat I proceed.

This insanity in the art of making Pizza  started in the mid 2000s for me after I had joined a pizza association to learn about the craft of making “vera pizza”. I am not sure what it is about pizza that attracts such a cultish (or you read “nerdish”) obsession amongst a few die-hard enthusiasts who debate about the consistency of the “cornicone” (the crust to normal folk), the hydration used (how wet or the dry the dough is) or the type of rising method used (overnight/same day).

Many simple won’t understand or appreciate the fuss. I still remember the my unversity days where each night hoards of students could be seen queuing outside the local kebab cum pizza shop at 2am for their slice of a pizza that was covered with cheese more plasticky than Barbara Streisand’s face, seemingly the perfect offset to a night of “mine-sweeping”, drinking left over drinks,from every corner of a sticky carpet-tiled nightclub. Clearly they had no time for such intricacies…

Perhaps the reason behind such a cult obsession is that making “authentic” Neapolitan pizza is so hideously inaccessible to a humble domestic cook and that the lure of exclusivity shields you from mere mortals who are trying to cooked homemade pizza in their tiny electric ovens or grills. The investment is staggering: in terms of money, for you  require a wood fired oven (that’s hot) and in terms of time, to let the dough rise for a susbstanial amount of time (approximately 6 hours or longer according to the traditional method). Unless you are an incurable American pizza chain loving urchin , once you’ve tasted a 90 second wood-fired Neapolitan Margarita, nothing else will suffice.

So you can imagine my delight when I struck upon Via Napoli in Sion. The owner, Mr Gore, even talks to me about the AVPN (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) and the lengths he’s gone to to make the perfect pizza and embue his staff with the same techniques. For example, in a rare sight of perfect collaboration and quality control, I see one of the chef’s checking with another if the tomato sauce is acceptably blended.

I look at the hand stretched pizza going straight into the wood-fired oven and look down at my watch furtively to see how long this creation will take.The owner instantly spots my gesture and informs me that his wood fired oven is very cold (the most lamentable words any pizza enthusiasts can hear). By cold, I mean the oven floor might have been clocking 250 degrees but in Neapolitan world anything below 400 degrees is anathemic.

I’m filled with a tinge of disappointment after travelling all the way to the depths of Sion, where no rickshaw is allowed to enter. I know the pizza will be heavy and anemic after approx 5-6 mins in the low temperature oven. And that it was, but an honorable mention for the sparing use of buffalo mozzarela and a simple tomato sauce. I did revisit on a second occasion and the pizza was better. The oven was hotter, resulting in a lighter and more charred base. It’s still not a Vera Pizza Napoletana but a good attempt.

At this point, I forget to mention the stranglely warm jar of pineapple and basil juice that I ordered first time, but this of trifling importance.

The dessert a chocolate creation with fresh strawberries of which I forget the name, was puerile in conception but delightful, owing to the morsels of crispy biscuit coming through on each mouthful. A playful “refrigerator cake” you might say.

After some honest feedback the owner, sensing my disappointment on the first occasion, decided not to charge me for my pizza. I made it very clear that I was impressed by the concept and to get free dishes was never my intention. I eat out frequently and have willingly paid for meals that even the hardest of stomachs might find difficult to bear.

Such a gesture though is testament to the character of the owner (who clearly is not happy with anything less than a satisfied customer) and is at stark odds  with the myriad of penny foolish, mercenary restaurateurs out there whose only response to feedback is hostility and defensiveness.

The sad part about all this is the owner knows exactly the sort of pizza I would enjoy – a 90 second light Neapolitan, black speckled with an airy cornicone. However his hands are tied catering to half witted punters who expect something truly different from their pizza.

I learn that even my favourite joint (Di napoli) has closed down and the owner is now catering to the desi palette in another establishment. It seems there is little hope for the Vera Pizza in the big smoke of Mumbai.

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