I have an obsession with greetings card shops. There is one next to my office that I could spend hours in, just reading and chuckling to myself at the array of inappropriate, sweet, rude and funny cards for all occasions. I’ve been known to howl like a total crazy person in card shops, and I look forward to the cards I receive on my birthdays more so than my presents. Buy me a card for any occasion that is thoughtful or funny and i’m a happy gal. It’s all I really want.
But the week after Christmas, these card shops become ruined by the infestation of Valentines Day bollocks. There is red and pink as far as the eye can see, and it’s vomit inducing. I hate Valentines day, and I always have. Whether i’ve been single or in a relationship at the time, I have never really embraced it. It has been commercialised into a day designed to rid us of our hard earned cash, guilt-trip men into offering up insincere displays of romance and reduce women into the deepest depths of their insecurities. No plans on Valentines day? Oh, your poor, sad, lonely thing, you should probably give up and get a cat now. Your man forgot to pay £100 for a dozen roses? Ugh, what a bastard, lets hope he’s as dead as those overpriced flowers will be within the week.
One of my biggest issues with this “holiday” is that it tends to ruin eating out for much of the week. Restaurants see this as an opportunity to increase their prices, limit their menus and ram sickly romance down our throats like a goose destined to be foie gras. It’s a bandwagon that is jumped on by too many restaurants, and it infuriates me.
So having winged about all of this, I do actually have something a bit nice to say on the subject of Valentine’s dining. If you are so inclined to celebrate it, and/or you are looking for nice place to enjoy a date with your current favourite person, or you just want somewhere to head for dinner tonight, I have a hot tip for you…
Franco Manca is one of London’s most respected pizza places – they are now in every corner of the city, and you can even find them as far as Brighton & Southampton!
Their pizza which is so well loved across London is made from slow-rising sourdough and is baked in a wood burning oven at 500 °c (900 °F ). This incredibly high heat means that you never need to wait long for your pizza to arrive, and when it does it will be rustic in appearance with a thick, soft, floury crust, perfect for dunking into chilli oil, and a delicate base that is soaked through with the flavours of your toppings.
I was invited along to the Soho restaurant on Berwick street to test out its date venue credentials. My hungry date and I made our way up on the train from Reading, bypassed the crowds at Oxford Circus and headed over to the top of Soho.
We arrived at the restaurant and descended the stairs into the basement where a few dozen tables stretch along the length of the room. On the walls there are blackboards displaying the specials of the day, including the seasonal options for toppings which cost from an extra 50p to £1.75.
We sat and, having by coincidence just been talking about how much I love Aperol Spritz, my date noticed it was available on the menu and so I ordered a glass of the bright orange sparkly stuff while he knocked back an espresso and enjoyed a small bottle of the organic lemonade.
The menu is conveniently simple. There are 7 pizzas on the menu (not including the daily specials on the board) priced from the simplest and cheapest No.1; the tomato, garlic and oregano pizza at £4.95 up to the No.7 tomato and mozzarella topped with dry and semi-dry cured organic chorizo at £7.55. My date and I went for the No.3 and No.4 respectively.
The No.3 costs £7.35 and comes void of tomato sauce, with wild broccoli, mozzarella and Gloucester Old Spot hand sliced sausage. I added a few slices of sweet potato and artichokes to mine. The sweet potato is a beautiful addition with the mozzarella, and the artichokes provided the subtlest of citric notes which joined the freshness of the broccoli. The big cuts of sausage were juicy and, as my date pointed out as he stole a piece from my plate, the best part. Luckily for him he’s super dreamy; I’ve killed people for less.
His No.4 (the same price) came with a little bit of tomato (randomly splodged across the dough) with Gloucester Old Spot ham (home cured) mozzarella, wild mushrooms and Buffalo ricotta which made each slice super creamy.
After our meal I enjoyed a super creamy latte and he another espresso. We would have ordered the £3.50 tiramisu but we were just a bit too full from our pizzas.
Needless to say, it was a very good date, with very good food within a very relaxed atmosphere. If you want a date free of pretence and filled with flavour, Franco Manca is the one any time of the year, and if you want to make it the romantic destination of your Valentine’s date then you’re also in luck.
On the 13th, 14th and 15th of February*, each restaurant is offering their Valentines Bundle which includes any 2 pizzas, a bottle of wine, and 2 desserts for the surprisingly affordable and un-Valentine like price of £30, or you could even upgrade to a bottle of bubbles for £35! And i’ve done the math for you – that’s actually a bloody good deal. Turns out it pays to celebrate Valentines Day for once!
And for added romance, should you be so inclined, the team will also offer to build your pizzas in the shape of a heart… how sweet. But if you could avoid smugly instagramming your “love pizza” for us all to see, i’d really appreciate it.
*of course, you could decline the Valentine bundle and just enjoy the regular menu. Franco Manca are kind like that. They’ll let you boycott the entire thing if you want to, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on delicious pizza!