Radio Alice, Berberè’s good Italian pizza in London

Brothers Matteo and Salvatore Aloe open across the English Channel. Following the usual rules: great taste, lightness, honesty

16-02-2017

The entrance to Radio Alice at 16 Hoxton Square in Shoreditch, London. Launched with a soft opening on the 5th December, it’s the sixth Berberè restaurant in 7 years, after Castel Maggiore, Bologna, Florence, Torino and Milan. In the picture, Matteo and Salvatore Aloe

High quality Italian pizza in London, an oxymoron. Of course there are places doing a good job – especially in Neapolitan style – but exceptions drown in a mare magnum of discs previously rolled out and frozen, with dull ingredients scraping a living for a whole year.

It’s like going back to 15-years-ago Italy, when the “gourmet” pizza fever – the word is semantically horrible but in lack of credible alternatives it is comprehensible – hadn’t yet raised the mercury column of dozens and dozens of new generation pizzaioli, capable of rewriting both the present and the destiny of the most beloved single-course dish in the world. This is why I was happy to accept Matteo and Salvatore Aloe’s invitation.

The restaurant they’ve just opened in London in December is Berberè’s sixth establishment in 7 years, after Castel Maggiore, Bologna, Florence, Torino and Milan. But it’s the first abroad. The two brothers from Calabria chose Shoreditch, in north London. The lively hipster neighbourhood, with acid coffees and scrap merchants had everyone agree also for emotional reasons: before starting the successful pizza light saga, they regularly met here to keep up to date with their respective adventures (and quarrel about football: one supports Inter, the other Milan).

Parma ham, burrata, oil aromatised with orange and fiordilatte (photo by Francesca Sara Cauli)

Parma ham, burrata, oil aromatised with orange and fiordilatte (photo by Francesca Sara Cauli)

The couple was joined by Australian Emma King, co-founder at Gail’s artisanal bakery, who’s passionate about yeast and is an essential partner helping them find their way in an unknown and hyper-competitive market. They met in the days of Expo, tuning in to the great challenge of offering their Italian leavened products to a non-accustomed public. They visited some fifty places and finally chose this old church-school on two floors in Hoxton Square, next to the church of Saint Monica.

It’s the first pizzeria they’re not naming Berberè because the British pronunciation tends to mangle the name into something very different («burberry»). «We called it Radio Alice», the two brothers explain, «like the free radio that was popular in Bologna in the Seventies. We wanted to give voice to producers who usually don’t have one». When you go to the bathroom, there’s a sound loop with the dramatic moments in March 1977 when police forces evacuated and closed the radio station in Via del Pratello.

Outside, what with the scenic electric oven and the fine-dining-style spotlights on the pass, the pizzaioli wearing a flat cap are hard at work, guided by Andrea Aureli, ex-team-leader in Florence. They follow the directions of Massimo Giuliana, eclectic itinerating yeast expert, who was here until two days ago. «In London», says Matteo, «mother yeast is rather common in bread making but not with pizza, where they mostly use sour dough».

Matteo Aloe (30), Salvatore Aloe (37) and their Australian partner Emma King

Matteo Aloe (30), Salvatore Aloe (37) and their Australian partner Emma King

At Berberè they use semi-whole stone-milled organic flour from wheat, enkir, kamut, rye and corn. An alchemy they studied over time with Alce Nero, a sound partner that helps them also in importing many precious products, including “Piccoli”, the nibbles opening the menu: olives from Cerignola, speck from Trentino, mortadella from Bologna, anchovies from Cetara, Sardinian camoni tomatoes…

They import everything from Italy, also thanks to Natura, a company supplying organic food and vegetables across the English Channel. They use the latter for the now famous “Pizze rosse” and “Pizze bianche”, written in Italian in the menu. And “Viola”, a pizza made with cauliflower purée, late radicchio and black olives, in the menu but only for a short time yet as toppings follow the supreme rule of seasonality.

The eight slices served are the delicious ones we know well: light and crispy base, surrounded by a soft and large edge. The sum of the ingredients on top, never more than 3 or 4, is perhaps even richer than in the Italian restaurants. It’s hard in fact for Londoners (which doesn’t mean English people, but citizens from all over) to immediately appreciate a marinara. It’s easier for them to choose a super-delicious pizza with Sausage, Parmigiano Reggiano, tomato and black pepper, one of the most popular ones. Or Pecorino, tomato and pancetta.

Berberè pizzerias are not part of a franchising: the owners control everything directly

Berberè pizzerias are not part of a franchising: the owners control everything directly

And how about manpower? «There are different rules. Here you tend to hire only managers and head chefs. Otherwise flexibility and competition prevail. The cost of work is lower: in Italy each person costs 1 plus 1 more you need to give to the state; here of 7 pounds per hour, 1 goes in taxes. Of course costs are very high», they say raising their voice over the personalised web radio, broadcasting its notes between soft lights, very tall ceilings and graphic art works that catch the eye just like the bar counter (English people peacefully dine sipping Negroni).

In these two months of soft opening, what with lunch and supper, Radio Alice has baked some 200 pizzas per day, the amount they bake at Berberè Milano in one shift alone. The place is designed to make 500 pizzas. With the warmer season coming up, they’ll also be able to use the outdoor space.

Radio Alice
16 Hoxton Square
London, United Kingdom
+44.(0)20.70183656
hoxton@radioalicepizzeria.co.uk
Average prices: Small plates 3/6, Pizze Rosse and Bianche from 6 to 13 pounds
Always open for lunch and supper


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Gabriele Zanatta’s opinion: on establishments, chefs and trends in Italy and the world