Many ingredients go into a great pizzeria: slick and friendly service, a fun and lively atmosphere, and of course terrific pizza made with great dough and high-quality toppings, seared in a scorching-hot oven. Following an exhaustive quest in 2010, we named Ealing’s Santa Maria as home of the best pizza in London, and had hopes that this newcomer might rival its celebrated sibling. But although Sacro Cuore makes good pizza, it also made our heart sink.
Poor customer service has been a running criticism of Santa Maria, if the user feedback on our website is anything to go by. Yet the opening of a new branch seems to have taught its owners little in this respect. Our waiter seemed off in a dream world, taking our order three times yet still getting it wrong; it was as if he’d never eaten in a restaurant, let alone worked in one. Other staff weren’t much better: we watched as the pizzaioli fumbled and poked our pizzas into shape, handling the wooden peels as if for the first time.
Despite this, our pizzas were very good. The low-salt dough, made from Caputo flour and slow-fermented for 24 hours, puffed up quickly in the 400°C oven, forming a crisp yet pliant cornicione that seals the moisture within; the result is a chewy, pliable pizza base. The intense heat also chars the base in a pleasing way.
The toppings should also benefit from the high temperature, sealing in the flavours of the hand-crushed San Marzano tomato sauce – though in this case too much had been applied, making the base soggy. Yet the ingredients were good quality: just the right amount of scattered fior di latte (cow) mozzarella, plump and sharp capers, and aromatic herbs on our Napoli.
The creativity of the kitchen is kept within limits – there’s no hoisin duck or lemongrass here. Instead, the crumbled salsiccia (pork sausage) and friarielli (the tops of Neapolitan broccoli) on our second pizza smacked properly of Italy.
There are several wines to choose from – all described, unhelpfully, as merely ‘house’ by our waiter – and simple frozen desserts, but after waiting and waiting for service we decided to abandon this sacred heart rather than prise open the freezer door ourselves.