Standing in the queue for Franco Manca I felt disorientated. Perched on the edge of Market Square, the Van of Life cast its blue-white light upon the herd of impatient nineteen year olds, huddled by the grey skeleton of the market stalls. It was odd to see the van bright and alive when there were still adults leaving M&S beside it. It was the sort of thing that seemed to only exist after midnight; a portal of oily light illuminating my less than elegant moments with ghastly brightness: alone at 2AM, clawing my fingers into garlic-mayonnaisy cheesy chips, chatting shit.
But whilst the hallmark of the Cambridge after party stood on my left, turning to the right, it felt as if I had been transported from the city itself. Along the cobbled street, couples were drinking red wine, laughing, with serene conviviality, fondling oiled green olives and pulling apart pink slices of cured meat.
Whilst centrally located, Franca Manco is the perfect sort of escape – compactly cosy, warmly lit, humming with slightly-tipsy conversation. Upstairs, we were seated by the tall white-framed window, tucked above the curled end of Trinity Street. Selecting a bottle of the Dolcetto Carlindepaolo, we decided, with the promise of an exchanged slice – upon the Margherita pizza, and, Naples’ very own: “Vegetarian Special”. The wine, sloshed into two glass tumblers with a pleasing unfussiness, was light-bodied, struck with berry undertones – perhaps a little too sharp. Clutching our glasses, warmly enveloped by chatter, we looked over the glow of street lamps, gold in the crisp grey-black, anticipating our pizza.
In seconds, I spotted the glint of burrata across the room. Twirling through the bustle of the diners, our waitress carried our pizzas, placing them – red, green, and dazzling in front of us. The sourdough base was truly spectacular: thick and cushiony, with a perfect edge of tanginess. The Margherita was humbly tickled with a cluster of basil leaves, whilst the Vegetarian Special was a showstopper: pearls of burrata, white and glistening, sat upon strokes of dark green pesto. The contrast in textures – rich and salty, balanced by the bouncily soft – worked brilliantly, giving the pizza an overall lightness. With such attentive focus to quality, it’s hard to believe that Franco Manca is a chain restaurant and not a little family run business. And the best part: pizzas are as cheap as £5 (and £6.95 for a pizza and a drink if you register for a UNiDAYS).
Whilst fairly sized, we had teared our way through the pizzas in minutes, and, indulgently, picked two cakes to share for desert. Dolloped with vanilla ice cream, the chocolate and hazelnut cake was unadventurous but tasty. The lemon cake, on the other hand, was spectacular: soaked in honey and cut by sharp greek yoghurt; a perfect balance of moistness, tanginess and not-too-sweetness.
Stuffed, satisfied and tipsy, we left the restaurant, stepping outside the orange buzz of chatter, back to the dead-pan chip munchers clogging the street.
Atmosphere – 8.5/10
Value – 10/10
Quality – 8.5/10