At 11am, when Brandi Pizzeria starts to get ready to welcome its lunch guests, the oven takes some 15 minutes to heat to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit. After which, the pizza, in the hands of chef Alessando Errico, takes less than two to cook. Chef Errico, whose father is the pizza chef at Brandi in Italy, has been putting together pizzas since he was 12. In the wood-fired oven, a part of the open kitchen at one of the newest restaurants in Dubai Mall, he deftly moves the pizza around so it’s exposed to the right amount of heat.
“For the thin, crisp pizza crust that you usually get, the oven need not be as hot as this one, since it is slow cooked for longer,” chef Errico says. The pizza may take only two minutes and the chef makes it seem simple, but it’s two minutes of total concentration if it has to turn out just right — very slightly crisp, thick sides, with a soft, foldable middle.
“Not everyone understands Naples-style pizza. Most pizza around the world is the Roman-style pizza, which is crisper,” says Enrico Clementi, head of food and beverage at Ginza Restaurants, which has brought a franchise of Naples’ Brandi Pizzeria to Dubai this August.
Some diners who visit Brandi wonder why the crust is floppy, but most others are happy to savour authentic food and understand that there is more than one kind of pizza. “We will do a crisp crust if a diner requests it, but we also want to inform the consumer. Most of them are happy to learn. There is a lot of interest in authentic, artisanal food in the UAE right now. We are, in fact, planning more branches in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi. There is demand,” says Clementi.
The pizza, when it comes, is not one that you just lift up and bite into. Clementi folds it like a samosa with his fingers, diagonally so the tomato sauce does not seep out when bitten into. There is a whiff of smoke in the first bite and the base pretty much melts in the mouth. The ingredients — the Italian flag colours in tomato, basil and mozzarella — are still fresh. “In Italian food there is a lot of space for ingredients to speak for themselves,” says Clementi.
Tried and tested
Instead of the newly introduced pizza with truffle or the Dubai-special Al Pollo, we sample the classic Margherita — because Brandi is the birthplace of the pizza named after the Queen Margherita di Savoia (above).
Brandi was already about 100 years old when Margherita di Savoia visited Naples in 1889 and voiced the desire to sample a pizza, a peasant staple. She liked the creation so much that Raffaele Esposito and his wife, Maria Giovanna Brandi, the owners of the pizzeria, named it after her.
“The standard pizza at the time was the basic Marinara, which is simply pizza dough topped with tomato, oregano, olive oil and garlic. Mozzarella was considered a fancy product then,” Clementi tells us.
Brandi has welcomed other famous patrons too. Its diners over the years have included tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Prince Alberto of Monaco, former US president’s Bill Clinton’s daughter Chelsea, Hollywood actor Christopher Lambert and other sundry Italian nobles.
The pizzeria recently celebrated UAE National Day with a variation of the Margherita, with black aubergines added to tomato for red, basil for green and mozzarella for white. In Dubai, chef Errico and his team are hoping to host Diego Maradona, the Dubai-based footballer who reached the peak of his career at Naples. And as we get ready to leave, Clementi tells us of another Naples-born footballer, retired and now based in the UAE, “Fabio Cannavaro was here.”