Pizza is the most important food group. Pizza can cure bad days, hangovers, heartaches, and calcium deficiencies, and Hanoi now has a pizza-by-the-slice joint to conveniently feed our pizza needs.
Opened in May by Gianfranco Stella, Papa Roma fills a single-sliced pizza with heart. Stella knows what he’s doing when it comes to pizza, and he knows that the secret to good Italian food lies in quality ingredients. Yet, despite the fact that Stella imports the tomatoes and cheese from his native Italy, the prices remain reasonable.
(VND35,000 to VND45,000)
We start off with two refreshing juices, a virgin passion fruit mojito and the vibrant red nectar of a man tuyet, a fruit similar to a plum. Both are perfect, though the man tuyet’s tart yet smooth richness is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted — I love the thick froth that floats on the top.
(VND40,000 to VND60,000)
Size: 10cm x 20cm
I then work my way through the full parade of pizza options, starting with the classic margarita, lined with a row of fresh basil leaves — music to my mouth. After that, on to the diavola, a slice dotted with spicy salami and sprinkled with parsley. I then grandly conclude with the prosciutto e funghi, boasting a mountain of smoked ham and sautéed mushrooms. Because pizza is so basic — “a simple dish for simple people,” as Stella explains — a good slice of pizza must nail each ingredient to a T.
He continues. The pizza’s backbone, the crust is the foundation that carries each slice to the finish line. Papa Roma’s crust is thick enough to add a chewy texture to each bite, but thin enough to ensure a bit of crispiness.
Rising up from the crust, we find ourselves at the tomato sauce and cheese. The Italian mozzarella forms a delicate blanket over the sweet sauce, and spills over the edges just enough to crisp up in crunchy, salty bites that punctuate the pizza’s edge. Last but not least are the toppings. Says Stella, a person’s topping preference depends on their mood, and Papa Roma’s menu suits a range of pizza desires.
You can’t go wrong with any of the three we tried, and I’d bet that any of the other options would hit out of the park, too. I drool — probably noticeably — when Stella speaks about the paccino piccante, topped with cherry tomatoes in a spicy balsamic sauce.
If you’re not a pizza person (do you even exist?), or if you’re just not in the mood, there are other viable options on the menu. The tuna salad (VND70,000) isn’t something to write home about, but the focaccia and homemade vinaigrette certainly are. You can also order the focaccia sandwiched around meats and cheeses.
My meal, however, concludes with al dente spaghetti and clams (VND85,000), all lightly tossed in tomato sauce. It’s that kind of simple Italian dish that makes you want to blow a kiss at someone, and it tastes even better when sprinkled with parmesan, though Stella scowls when I make that request (“On seafood!? Ay no!”).
Papa Roma’s slices are modeled after traditional Roman ‘pizza by the cut’, which is meant to be eaten quickly, on the go. However, whether you sit at the wooden tables pushed to the side of Food Street or take your meal upstairs to the dining room, the space is bright and inviting. It has just the right amount of colour and kitsch, meaning this is the kind of place perfect for whiling away some time.
Papa Roma is at 4B Ngo Cam Chi, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, just off Food Street. This August they are opening a Saigon outlet in Phu My Hung at SD4-1 My Khang, Nguyen Luong Bang, Q7