I’ve only ever had authentic (well, close to authentic) Neopolitan pizza once.
I was around 14, and my aunt had taken us to this obscure, near empty Italian place in Dubai that focused on serving Neopolitan classics and I have vivid memories of only two dishes that I sampled during the course of that meal- a hearty Pasta Calamarata that released bags of fresh, seafood-y gusto in every forkful and their mind-numbingly good Neopolitan Pizza.
The thin, charred crust, almost puffed at the rim, with a tangy-sweet tomato base, topped with melting chunks of buffalo mozzarella and fragrant basil contributed to a perfect bite- the kind that has a smile and soft moan of contentment escape your lips before you even realise your mildly undignified gesture of appreciation for what is essentially just some carbs and cheese.
As Google got better at its job and I found myself more interested in food, a lot of hours were spent reading articles and watching youtube vidoes on the exalted Vera Pizza Napoletana- with detailed discourses by Italian chefs in almost incomprehensible English about the texture of the dough, the hours that go into leavening it to get that deliciously scorched “cornicione”. Almost makes you wish you had a house big enough to install a wood fired oven that dishes out perfectly done pizzas after a little over a minute in its 400 degree warm (read: hot) embrace.
All this being said, I still wouldn’t classify myself a “snob” as far as pizza goes. I love pizza enough to love it in all its forms: be it the ubiquitous American style pizzas, with their thin cracker crusts piled high with toppings or its more refined Napoli cousin. Its just a pity the latter is more of a task to find in Bombay than the former.
So it should come as no surprise that seeing the name “Via Napoli” on Zomato had my interest piqued and a few of us dropped in to sample their fare a few days back.
The first thing you notice on walking in is the distinct waft of smokiness that engulfs the small space and their larger-than-life wood fired oven in all its red hot, crackling glory.
True to their name, Via Napoli’s offerings are an attempt to acquaint the Bombay dining scene with authentic Naples pizza. With dough that is left to proof for over 6-8 hours, and ingredients imported from the motherland itself, head chef and owner Pranav Gore has left no stone unturned in his endeavour.
We perused the concise menu, and went with the following:
Pane Con Aglio
What seems like an attempt to include the famed but not-so-authentic garlic bread to their menu, the bread is toasty but soft, with melty cheese and garlic sprinkled within and a generous drizzle of olive oil atop. It’s hard to go wrong with something like this, really.
It is just so mind-boggling to me how bread, cheese, tomatoes and olive oil work this well together but gosh almighty, it does.
Their tomato sauce is a sucker-punch of tartness to the palate, miles ahead of the weak sauce bases all the other pizza places here boast of. The cheese is used in moderation but shines for its ability to cut the sauce with bits of mild creaminess in every bite. The smattering of basil leaves and olive oil elevate this beautiful little waltz of tangy tomato and salty buffalo mozzarella on the tongue and their crust is without a doubt one of the best I’ve had in the city.
Hearty, with a nice kick of spice from the salami, this ticked all the boxes for us too. The crust is again, well above par, with a scorched, almost charred exterior giving way to little air pockets of soft dough inside. However, I would have loved to see a more fatty pork salami compared to the slightly drier chicken counterpart used in the dish.
And so, in our hearts the humble Margherita still reigned supreme.
I’m not the biggest fan of the Indo-italian variants of “white sauce” pasta because its much too rich for my taste but this place has near perfected the subtle art of using a cream base (without making me feel like a bloated water buffalo in the process). The garlic crema is just enough to coat the impeccably al dente shells (conchiglie maybe?) and the generous sprinkling of grana padano atop ties it all together. Surprisingly enjoyable!
Pasta Aglio Olio
A close contender for favourite dish of the day, this straightforward rendition of Spaghetti Aglio Olio has been beautifully executed. Every mouthful is a burst of garlic and parsley, slightly mellowed by the extra virgin olive oil the perfectly cooked spaghetti has been liberally tossed in. Eating it was a roller coaster of antinomy- it’s luxuriant yet light, simple to the eyes yet complex to the palate. Perplexed but utterly satisfied, we mopped up every last morsel.
Recommended by our waiter, it is an unadorned, playful take on a chilled “no bake” cake. With a chocolate base and chunks of biscuit crumbs within, it is not cloyingly sweet, but I would have loved a scoop of mascarpone on top, which to our dismay was missing the day we visited.
The staff however, made it a point to mention this missing detail and give us the little plate of goodness at no extra charge. Unnecessary, but their dedication to serve up good quality food, without any excuses on the side was admirable to say the very least.
To sum up our quick Saturday lunch, Via Napoli delivers on their promises to offer the traditional Neopolitan Pizza experience in the midst of busy Prabhadevi. It is heartening to see Chef Gore’s passionate, determined stance to not modify his menu to suit the tastes of the masses but to instead educate his diners and help them understand the “Italian” food they love so much slightly better.
My only quibble, if any, would be the marked absence of good protein on the menu. The place could greatly benefit from some good prosciutto/pancetta options on their pizza or a hearty seafood pasta- replete with fresh, locally sourced squid and clams.
But perhaps that’s for when they gain a more sizeable patronage, open enough to try other Neopolitan classics with a staple order of their downright delicious Pizza Margherita.