Damon Fairclough gets a pizza the action on Smithdown Road
FORTY years ago, pizza was something my parents served at leafy-suburb soirées alongside the vol-au-vents and melon boats, although to my undiscerning eyes, it was a flan that just looked wonky and burnt.
Within a decade though, the doughy discs had been rebranded as family entertainment, with high street franchises bringing the generations together over a variety of deep-pan delights. These temples to the stuffed crust may not pull in the teen birthdays and retirement parties like they once did, but anyone wishing to continue this tradition can still find suitable venues in out-of-town retail parks up and down the land.
However, for a pizza with a more authentically Italian whiff of Vesuvius smoke and Vespa exhaust fumes, you may wish to look elsewhere. From street-food stalls to slap-up diners, there are now plenty of places that boast their own wood-fired ovens and flour-flecked staff. Little Furnace on Smithdown Road is simply one of Liverpool’s latest.
After launching at the Granby Four Streets Market, traipsing round the festival circuit and following up, most recently, with a residency at the Baltic Market in the old Cains Brewery, Little Furnace’s Smithdown outlet gives the team a more permanent base.
Boasting a beautiful crazy-paved oven and a welcoming wood and tile interior, the small unit is dedicated solely to the art of the Neapolitan pizza. There are no bowls of olives or salami platters on this menu; just 15 different ways to enjoy ingredients smeared across dough.
There is a rough-hewn counter-cum-kitchen down one length of the space with four tight booths squeezed down the other side. The place was packed when we arrived, but within minutes we got a seat. So though it may look busy (during the whole time we were there, it was never anything other than bustling), service is brisk and it’s likely to be worth hanging around. Or there’s always the takeaway option.
With just a single foodstuff on the menu, the Little Furnace team must be confident they’ve nailed the Neapolitan way of doing things. The dough-pummelling and oven-shovelling all looked authentic enough, but it’s on the plate where it really counts. By this tasting, it’s clear that Naples’ “intangible cultural heritage” (as UNESCO puts it) is in good hands.
All three of our pizzas were gorgeous to look at, with a lightly tanned and puffy circumference ringing an artful scattering of peppers, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, whatever. Served uncut, the soft, thin bases were easily sliced, with the resulting floppy wedges pleading to be rolled, curled or folded as the Neapolitan style demands.
The Regina Margherita (£8) was home to portly red and yellow plum tomatoes along with mozzarella and a few breeze-blown basil leaves (image above). We swerved the pizza’s usual Parmesan topping, but added mushrooms and peppers for an extra £1.20 each. It sounds all too simple, but when combined with the flaccid pleasures of the drooping dough, these modest components created a disc full of joy.
Our garlic, spinach and mushroom bianca (£8.50) was equally good, this time tangled with wilted greens and, at our request, vivid red chillies.
Then there was the Sicilian Death Wish (£10), a blood-red feast spattered with dollops of densely smoky ‘nduja sausage paste, though mercifully served without a side order of horse’s head. Again, the standard Little Furnace base proved to be the perfect resting place for this fiery spread, the near-molten dough serving to damp down the flames.
Even the crusts are worth chewing over here, and with a decent selection of dips including a classic aioli and an intense custom concoction made of garlic, oregano, tomato and onion sauce (90p each, or £3.50 for all five), these pizzas are made to be devoured from radius to rim.
Beers are the usual Italian suspects (the likes of Peroni and Birra Moretti) along with Liverpool’s ubiquitous Love Lane Pale (£3.50), and there’s even a stripped-down wine list from which we plucked the fragrant pinot grigio rosata (£4.50 for a large glass).
Not that there’s much time to dawdle over drinks when there are hungry Smithdown locals looking longingly at your seat, but there’s always the excellent Craft Taproom next door if you want a post-prandial booze session. You can even take your pizza with you, and no one will attempt to chuck you out. Try that with one of Papa John’s finest and see how far you get.
Little Furnace Wood Fired Pizzas, 178 Smithdown Road, Liverpool, L15 3JR
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Regina margherita 8; Garlic, spinach and mushroom bianca 8; Sicilian death wish 9.5; dips 7.5
Not quite “That’s amore!” but near enough
Wooden it be nice