There were a few times over dinner at Santa Maria that I had to pinch myself to remember I wasn’t eating pizza from Franco Manca. The fresh interesting selection of toppings, quick speed pizza cooking time in the wood fired oven and the laidback vibe all lured me into a false sense of Franco Manca style security until every now and then I’d get a pang for Franco Manca’s smokey charred sour-dough base that Santa Maria just didn’t deliver.
Many of the blog posts I’ve read about Santa Maria warn about queuing for a table as it’s a tiny little establishment that seats about 15 in the main area and a few more at the back. Arriving at 6 on a weeknight seemed to do the trick, I was seated straight away and allowed to soak in the atmosphere over a glass of cheap and tasty red while I waited for my friend. The size of the place doesn’t create a quiet or quaint atmosphere but instead is warm and buzzing thanks to the hustle and bustle of operating the beautiful pizza oven that sits smack bang in the middle of the dining area, manned by two friendly, chatty pizza chefs.
The staff urged us to order fairly quickly, coming over a few times to see how we were getting on with our menus and minutes after making our decisions our huge pizzas arrived. They don’t mess around. My San Giuseppe (Italian Mozzarella, Neapolitan sausage, wild broccoli and chilli flakes- £9.95) was generously topped with beautifully stringy mozzarella, tasty sausage with a hint of fennel and iron heavy wild broccoli. The combination was nice, but the chilli wasn’t strong enough and overall it was a little dry.
The San Francesco (Tomato Sauce, Italian mozzarella, artichokes, courgettes, aubergines, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, fresh basil- £9.45) was much better with the simple, yet flavourful ingredients coming together harmoniously atop a sweet tomato sauce. On this pizza, the flavour of the smokey base really shone through but the texture was a little lacking and the middle went a little soggy.
After our pizza, we dived straight in for some ‘Oddono’s Gelati’ a multi award winning artisanal Italian ice-cream, made with fresh natural ingredients. A combo of Chocolate, rich and velvety, and pistachio, nutty and creamy was utterly delicious and a steal at £4 for such a generous portion.
Santa Maria was good. In fact it was probably really really good, but considering the effort I’d gone to get there (the deep depths of Ealing) and the amount of hype I’d read about it, I really thought I was going to get blown away like the first time I ate a Franco Manca pizza. Instead what I got was delicious, just not new or that different. If I’m in the area again, I’ll definitely pop in for a pizza but doubt I’ll make the trip specifically for it again.