Melbourne may pride itself on its Italian heritage, but Sydney is no slacker when it comes to Italian food. We have amazing delis, classic red sauce joints, high-end purveyors of pasta and a raft of gelato and pastry shops that will keep you riding high on sugar all year long. But it's our pizza game that shines brightest. We know a thing or two about what it takes to make excellent pizza, and these are the places who are topping the class with their pies.
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Sydney's best pizza
Order the: Clam
On a pizza. It’s sounds too crazy to work. The little tender clams are steamed and pried from their shells, while the broth is cooked down with white wine and cream until it achieves an intense concentrated chowder flavour. They spread it over the top and then apply a liberal sprinkling of parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice before it slides into the shiny red wood-fired oven that is radiating heat out from the centre of the restaurant.
Order the: Lucio
Here’s a fun fact: the shape you make when you fold a piece of pizza in half to eat it is called a libretto. Yup, just like in the opera. And you know you’re eating a good pizza when you can fold with ease. The list here is strictly classical (your Margheritas, your marinaras, your diavolas), though there are a couple of house specialties, such as the Lucio. Named for chef and owner Lucio de Falco, the Lucio is about the only acceptable half-and-half in town. It’s half a regular Margherita – thin-based yet puffy and charred on the sides – and half a ham-and-ricotta calzone. Can we get a mamma mia?
Order the: Three cheese pizza
This tiny corner pizzeria is the latest venue for Piero Pignatti Morano and Kim Douglas, the A-team behind the ever-popular Two Chaps café. Madre borrows Two Chaps’ make-it-from-scratch philosophy and its ingredients, with chef Kim Douglas using the café’s four-year-old sourdough starter and a mix of three Australian flours to create the bases for Madre’s pizzas. The three-cheese pie includes fior di latte from the same postcode, as well as melted portions of domestically made blue cheese and aged washed rind. To stop the pizza from hitting dairy overload, the kitchen adds Warrigal greens from Pocket City Farms in nearby Camperdown and tips of cavolo nero from Moon Acres Farm in the Southern Highlands. Some hazelnuts, lightly toasted in the oven, are smashed and sprinkled over the top for a satisfying crunch.
Order the: Salamino Die-hard
Pizza Mario fans, breathe a sigh of relief: David Cowdrill’s spinoff restaurant, Da Mario, is serving the Salamino. If you’ve had the cheese-and-sausage pizza before, you know why this is the best news you've heard this month; if you haven’t, allow us to explain. The Salamino is your mouth’s new best friend: a thin, charred base all covered in melted mozzarella and big puddles of ricotta and spiced up with crisp curls of salami. It's soft and rich and runny and crunchy and salty and sweet and if you're anything like us, you'll fight like a fiend over the last piece – and then you'll order a second serve.
Order the: Peperone Rosso
Turns out pizza without cheese is still bloody excellent. Sure, there were a lot of naysayers on the internet when Gigi on South King Street changed to a plant-based menu, but they were wrong, because a chewy, wood-fired pizza base covered in a layer of sweet golden tomato puree and tender ribbons of capsicum gets all the umami depth it needs from a liberal dose of olive tapenade, capers, chilli, oregano and olive oil. The salty, savoury and spice trifecta hits all the right flavour zones on your tongue – we swear you won’t even miss the mozzarella. Don’t believe us? Just try getting a table – it’s a packed house every night.
Order the: Burrata
While you always want to try a Margherita as a control pizza (you need to compare the classics) the one that’s getting a second date at Matteo is the Burrata. It's strongly recommended by our waitperson on the merits of the just-cooked broccoli florets, cavalier anchovy application and a whole, fresh burrata orb in the middle like a pearl, destined to be smashed open and spread across the blistered pizza surface. Talk about the cream of the crop.
Order the: Mandingo
For some, when you say sausage on a pizza the only answer is pepperoni. But There's a very strong argument for the rich fennel-spiked sausage meat on the mandingo at Mary's Pizzeria. They've added rounder, flatter New York-style pies to the line-up of thick, cheesy Detroit-style deep dish pizzas, and once you add roast onion and the combined cheese assault of mozzarella and parmesan for bite it's a study in comforting carbs.
Order the: Pinza de’ fiori
Here the pizze are smaller, and oval, not round. They’re made from a very soft dough – up to 80 per cent water – that is proved for 72 hours to keep it light and fluffy, and then crowned in 11 flavour combos, including a Margherita. But we’d go back for the de’ fiori, a white base capped with melted and fresh mozzarella, parmesan, zucchini flowers and whole anchovies that come crashing through all that light, springtime freshness like a flavour wrecking ball.
Order the: Brandi
The lights are low, the chatter is jovial and the pizza is excellent at the Surry Hills arm of Bronte’s favourite pizza parlour. They have eight pizze on the menu that can be ordered bianchi (white) or rosso (red). The Brandi is as rigid as a military guard when it comes to following the rules for an AVPN-approved Margherita: six orbs of DOP cheese, a vermillion tomato base and four fresh basil leaves on top. The careful layout looks like an edible quilt piece, and straight out of the oven the bases here have just enough structural integrity to get the food to your mouth without it dropping in your lap.
Order the: Pizza bianco
This tiny little shop is a loud and local slice of White Bay, offering traditional pizza from (gasp!) an electric oven. They’ve got some pretty strict rules here. Try ordering a ham-and-pineapple or a half-and-half and you’ll be laughed out of Balmain. But there’s no need for a Tropicana when you’ve got a Margherita. As much as we always enjoy that classic of tomato, Italian buffalo mozzarella and basil, it’s Rosso Pomodoro’s pizza bianco – potato, Italian sausage and rosemary – that gets our vote. The pizza base is charred and bubbly, yet soft and yielding. The sausage is broken into little chunks, flavouring the thin, starchy slices of potato, all perfumed by the rosemary.
Order the: Isabel, a hot mess of 'nduja, pecorino and friarelli
Where La Panchina really shines is the dough. The crisp base is the sort that causes crust fanatics to fall over themselves. It’s been proofed for up to two days, so you don’t leave the place with a bloated pizza belly. The classic Margherita (fresh tomato, mozz and a baby basil leaf per slice) is a downright steal at $18, and another $3 will get you a zhuzhed-up version topped with bufala mozzarella instead.
Order the: Nonna vs Nonno, starring coppa, mozzarella, provolone and truffle paste
Oh, Frankie's. What's not to love? Lots of space to roam free, pints, pinball and a rotating roll call of excellent slices dished up and ready to go for six bucks in a matter of minutes. It pays to order a full pie though – you get to choose from a much broader selection, and cooking to order ensures the pie arrives just that little bit crisper and fresher.
Order the: Bologna
The pizza here is Tuscan style and the dough is rested for 48 hours, resulting in a crusty, fragrant bready base. The Bologna involves folds of buttery, soft mortadella, contrasted with a crunch of a scattered pistachios. The Pumpkin uses roasted creamy gourds as a base and tops it with sweet, just-caramelised chunks of onion, smoky scamorza cheese and paper-thin slices of pancetta. It’s hard to reinvent the pizza wheel, but these two combos make strong arguments for steering away from the typical pie.
Order the: Speck e funghi trifolati
These aren’t the can’t-get-it-through-the-doorway pizze of your American dreams – here they fit neatly on the plate, and there’s no need for a wire stand to get everything on the table. The piccantosa is maximum flavour for minimum fuss. It’s a pantry-friendly riff on a Margherita – when the basil plant is hibernating just swirl some pesto over the top, add some chilli and you’re good to go. The speck e funghi trifolati takes care of the toppings the piccantosa forgot. Mixed mushrooms are enmeshed in a cheesy web of mozzarella and then dressed in thin, gauzy strips of prosciutto.
Order the: Luigi's fantasy pizza
Here comes fun. And we mean it. Never has Lane Cove seemed like a more attractive place to take a long Friday lunch. Inside, the huge wood-fired pizza ovens are getting a thorough workout as the burly-armed pizzaioli push huge wooden paddles laden with pizza in and out. It’s here that you can eat a two-metre-long pizza. That’s the equivalent of just under two Kylie Minogues, toe-to-toe. It’s also about eight Minogues worth of lunch. Go for a metre-long pizza with your choice of toppings if you’re not feeling quite as ambitious.