March 10 2018

Jack Harrison


If you think the recent cold weather has been hard for you, for people who live on the streets, struggling to cope with sub zero temperatures is made even harder by constant hunger.

The recent cold weather has been the coldest for five years and that is why Franca Manca, the famed chain of pizza restaurants, have offered free pizza to charitable organizations, homeless shelters and food banks.

Each branch is limited to 100 pizzas per day and organizations can get in touch at

Ten years ago, when we were starting to think about setting up Hot Rocks wood fired pizza ourselves; we made the pilgrimage to Franco Manca in Market Row inside Brixton Market as it had been hailed as serving the best pizza in the UK.

We were faced with the inevitable long queue and then ushered unceremoniously to a long shared table where you couldn't help but rub shoulders with fellow diners. Cutlery was sat inside big tins, previously full of San Marzano tomato paste for the pizza bases and the service was brusque but efficient.

Mascoli, the owner, wanted you to eat well, but he also want to turn your seat around to make way for others.

It was not only the fact that the pizza was cooked in a wood fired oven, but the dough was sourdough, and it cooked in just over a minute. The base had a chewiness and whiff of yeast, the toppings were sparse but top quality, and your choice of wine was basically two reds and two whites by the glass.

We had never seen anything like it. It was an inspirational 30 minutes that shaped our direction with Hot Rocks Pizza.

Franco Manca was founded by Guiseppe Mascoli, who in 2008 he bought a small pizzeria in the market, which was then called Franco's.

When he bought the premises, Mascoli, changed the name to Franco Manca. In Italian, 'Manca' means gone, and the legend began.

His aim was to produce the very best simple food at affordable prices.

Buffalo Mozzarella was sourced from Somerset and the dry cured ham was Gloucester Old Spot. It was perfect.

Having come from a background as a high end chef, I was fascinated with this way of cooking, where simple basic ingredients could be transformed into something really special by a wood fired oven. Like our ovens, the pizza cooks in 60 – 90 seconds, but Mascoli brought specialists over from Italy to build his oven.

In those days the market served the local Afro-Caribbean community and you would stand in the queue next to other stalls selling fruit and veg, fish, and rare Reggae grooves.

The market has now partly given way to dozens of high-class artisan food and drink outlets and its possible to spend a good part of the day eating and drinking your way round.

The chain now has 40 restaurants in London but still keeps the original format of only 7 pizza on its menu.