The welcome: Santa Maria’s first branch in Ealing attracted plaudits from critics and diners alike, all but falling over themselves in amazement that a relatively nondescript small restaurant could be producing pizza that was not just as good as you’d get in Naples, but in many regards superior. A highly regarded sister restaurant in Kensal Rise followed, and now they’ve taken the plunge in the hinterland between Chelsea and Fulham. There are plenty of restaurants nearby, but few at so keen a price point – or so committed to such exemplary pizza. So when you turn up to the friendly but slightly harassed ‘hello’, make sure you’ve booked a table first.
The room: Industrial chic, with very loud music and tables closely packed together. If this is your idea of hell, then you might wish to avoid it. However, it’s all very jolly and unpretentious, with tap water on every table as standard and a big oven blasting out top-notch pizza every moment. It’s definitely not luxurious, but it’s not designed to be a place to linger all night.
The food: There is a keen debate as to where serves the best pizza in London, but it depends if you prefer the Neapolitan style (soft, fluffy bases like naan bread) or the Roman variety (long, thin bases). The first kind is normally the preferred option for the connoisseur, and is served here, to exemplary effect. The Santa Rosa, with smoked mozzarella, sliced sausage and aubergine, is a case study in how a pizza should be prepared and served, with all the ingredients in perfect proportion, and with the taste a sublime mixture of rich and savoury. A daily special that involved a white base, sausage and mixed peppers was every bit as interesting, and the best part is that they all cost less than a tenner.
Unusually for somewhere like this, they’ve made a real effort with the starters as well; meatballs with ricotta and n’djua were the sort of thing that made you want to eat every last scrap, and deep fried mozzarella balls in a tomato sauce were the opposite of the usual sickly tat that you encounter in places of this nature. The house wine – available, Italian-style, by the carafe in 250ml, 500ml and litre measures – is light and drinkable, if unlikely to trouble Robert Parker any time soon. Desserts are a bit perfunctory, but you’re going to be full by then anyway.
What makes it special: the pizza is so very good that it justifies a trip here if you’re too far away from Ealing or Kensal Rise to make the journey with any ease. And that’s it, really.
Would we go again? Er, yes.
|What||Santa Maria Chelsea|
|Where||Santa Maria, 94 Waterford Road, London , SW6 2HA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Fulham Broadway (underground)|
29 Apr 16 – 29 Apr 20, Check restaurant website for timings
|Website||Click here for more information|