When the Italian Ambassador to London wants pizza what does this Neapolitan diplomat do? Does he ask the Embassy kitchen in Grosvenor Square to prepare one, or does he go elsewhere? The answer is that this true gentle man travels 30′ across the Thames to Streatham Hill to bring his family to Addommè.
Addommè only delivers within a 2 kms radius of the wood oven – and then only by car because scooters are not for the real Neapolitan pizza – “We are not Domino’s. Real pizza cannot be shaken around on the back of a bike weaving through traffic as if they’re delivering against the clock,” says Stefano Casanova. Better with pizza that we come to the pizza, not the pizza comes to us – His Excellency the Ambassador knows that old wisdom.
Stefano started up Addommè 18 months ago with his wife, Nadia Lionetti. Both came to London from Capri. They stand for authenticity in pizza making – meaning being 100% true to the origins of pizza in Naples. The oven was imported from Naples and installed by Neapolitans. It now burns English oak – “The best for pizza,” says chef Valentino Ferro who comes from Sorrento, a place more famous for its lemon trees than oaks.
‘Come to me’ is the literal interpretation of ‘Addommè’. It’s proof evident of the welcome waiting as you walk through the door of this small trattoria alongside Streatham Hill station. Restaurants which can’t offer welcome better not be restaurants at all – London please note. Stefano learned this early on in Capri where he’d shadow his father who’d work each summer in a restaurant and then go back to carpentry in the winter months when there were no tourists on the island.
Hands up, I won’t eat pizza unless it is the best – that means a three day prove before the quick cook in a wood oven at around 450°C. I rarely order any pizza but a Margherita, but when at Addommè, the Gorgonzola & Noci comes alongside as a close 2nd choice. Marinara is maybe too monastic – yet, on the beach at Vietri as a ‘Pizza e Birra‘, it would be a first choice – maybe with an extra of salty anchovies too.
I fell on this place soon after it opened through a chance meeting in Brindisi with sommelier who has family connections with Naples – his brother is married to a Neapolitan and he tells me the people there never talk when they can shout. This is the man who opens more bottles of fine wine like Petrus, Cheval Blanc and d’Yquem than most others in London in any one week. On Sundays he and local Italian friends will take a long lunch at Addommè as their home from home.
Real Neapolitan pizza stands out above all others. The dough is infinitely more digestible due to its triple fermentation. Never is there the bloated feeling from speedily made dough – a Neapolitan pizza is actually light on the stomach and it’s not unusual to see customers eat two before a pasta course.
But there’s more. They have a bread that stands out. We pre-order one each time we book at Addommè. Now I get to learn the secret of the Pane di Cafone. First a word about cafone. Some say it means rough and ready as in rustic – the word actually refers to one without manners nor finesse.
The dough is mixed in 2 x 10 kg lots – the last job of the night before the kitchen shuts down. At weekends the order rises to 3 x 10 kgs. It’s a three day process of levitation – rising, the word itself taken from levito – Italian for yeast.
The Pizzaiola – or pizza master – is Nando Cirillo. He’s spent 16 years learning his craft – mostly in Torre Annunziata, near Pompeii across the bay from Naples. His English is slight and his smile catching. He works deftly with confidence.
Dough for the bread is cut into 1-1.2 kg pieces and formed in the long shape, complete with pinches along the top. Then into the residual heat of the wood oven for 50′ before it is fired for evening service – so now with an inside temperature of around 180-200°C.
The steel doors are shut tight – no more peeping until 5′ or so before the bread will be ready. Once open, the smell of fresh bread is heady – six large loaves are taken out on the spade and set to cool.
Next come meat balls – Polpette – a 50:50 mix of beef and veal. These too are given an initial deep fry in olive oil and set to cool. They are served in a tomato sugo against as an antipasti. As they cook, chef makes the batter for Zeppoline – flour and sparkling water with chopped wild rocket. These are cooked last minute to order.
Mozzarella di Bufala – also from Campania – is also served but is more expensive with buffalo milk costing €1.50 a litre compared to 40 cents for cows milk – at least that was the price in Campania when I was with the farmers there last September.
Each piece is check weighed and very occasionally a tiny piece is cut away or added to round off the ball before forming in his hands and setting to rest until service. On point of authenticity, Nadia tells me that 9-10″ is more the norm for a pizza back home in Naples.
There is no panic or urgency – just each doing their mise-en-place, joking across one to the other and finding time to include me, the observer who’s there to learn. Ingredients count for as much as skills here.
We talk about the weekly menu – six dishes in season and most with a Neapolitan / Caprese root. “We like to include Ravioli Caprese when possible,” Stefano tells me bringing across a well used ravioli cutter – “From my mother’s house,” he adds.
Ravioli Caprese are round pasta parcels with a filling based around Caciotta Stagionata – an aged cow’s milk ricotta from Capri. It is impossible to find in London so only becomes a menu item when someone comes across from home. The cheese is grated and mixed with beaten egg, dried marjoram and Parmesan to fill the ravioli. It is served with a simple fresh-made tomato sauce – tomato sauce is only ever made fresh daily at Addommè.
“You need to keep everything simple. When you add more you make a mess,” smiles Stefano.
Maltagliati pasta is featured this week – the word means ‘badly cut’. The dough is run through the pasta roller 3-4 times to become sfoglia, then quickly and randomly cut into ribbons with a dough knife – the effect is as good on the eye as in the mouth.
One dish centres around octopus – I ask how they cook the fresh octopus to avoid it becoming tough and rubbery. “He must cook in his own water,” says Nadia. This means starting the whole fish in a pan with garlic, olive oil and only a tiny amount of water. Lid on and the octopus will soon release water – ‘his water’. It’s not what you think and sets you on the way to a good texture when finally cooked and served.
On water and fish, we talk about the Neapolitan classic of cooking fish ‘Acqua Pazza‘ – in ‘crazy water’. Mostly only whole fresh fish like wild sea bass or bream are prepared this way which involves cooking fast in flavoured water.
Come Easter and they will also make Casatiello Napolitano. Here a round of dough is filled with kitchen left-overs – ends of salami, prosciutto crudo, mozzarella, Parmesan, etc. Sometimes whole shell eggs are set into the top before baking as a traditional celebration of Easter.
The Neapolitan kitchen, like most of real Italy, is a frugal place where nothing is wasted and ingredients are revered. Nothing would summarise this more than the city’s famous Ragù – a three day cook which, they say, should begin over a candle. The balance of meats may vary from family to family, but always there will be fresh pork and beef, pork rib and salsiccia. This is the classic Sunday lunch of Naples – much as roast beef and Yorkshire puddings might have been in England before Sundays became just another day.
The salsiccia is made by an Italian butcher in North London. I get the name and celebrate we will know have a source of good veal for special occasions at No 19. Nando takes the long luganega-recipe sausage – in long ropes and not twisted into links – and removes the casing.The filling is set in a terracotta dish and roasted in the wood oven for 10-12′.
All the time we talk of total, no-compromise authenticity at Addommè. Then on the menu is Pizza Nadia – a pizza topped with mozzarella, salsiccia, basil, olive oil and French fries. “In Naples and Capri, serving a pizza topped with chips is entirely real,” assures Nadia. Much as potatoes are served on top of the chickpea Farinata in Italian quarters of Buenos Aires – so I am told. What about knife & fork versus fingers for eating pizza?
“Always fingers,” smiles Nadia. “Perfect Neapolitan pizza has the crisp edge – the cornicione – and a thin soft bottom – eating a slice is a skill learned at childhood.”
I learn something new about peperoncino too. Hanging alongside the small dried long peppers are ones that are perfectly round, the size of a sloe berry. “These are Caprese peperoncino called Cerasiello – from my garden there,” explains Stefano. Their heat is the same as the longer pepper – their shape is to look out for.
Falling on all-too-rare places like Addommè can only lift the heart.
Travelling an hour zig-zagging across South London to eat pizza is evidence of this. It’s like going home.
ADDOMMÈ – 17/21 Sternhold Avenue, London SW2 4PA – 020 8678 8496 – www.addomme.co.uk