Il Leoncino, Centro Storico, Rome

Eating out
Il Leoncino pizzeria Centro Storico Rome Italy

The Romans have a slightly different way with pizza.

Their bases are thin and crisp, in contrast to the softer and fuller Neapolitan style.

A good Roman pizza will crack at the edges when you bend it, and if it’s cooked properly, the edges will be scorched.

Finding a decent pizza in Rome isn’t difficult – eating badly in the Eternal City is next to impossible – but the pizza served at Il Leoncino just off Via del Corso in the Centro Storico must rank among the best I’ve ever had.

No, scratch that. I’m going to go further.  It was the very best I’ve ever had – the absolute finest pizza that I’ve ever eaten.

As with all eating experiences, some of this has to do with the context. Il Leoncino is a small restaurant, more of a canteen than anything else.  The tables have plastic tablecloths and the light is fluorescent.  It’s a little shabby around the edges.

It’s the genuine article – a proper Roman pizzeria, full of Italians eating pizza.

The waiter added to the atmosphere, a big, gruff man with an exemplary moustache and a white apron dusted with flour and soot from the oven.  He didn’t speak any English, and my Italian doesn’t extend beyond a few words, so we pointed at and mispronounced our order.  I wanted some focaccia, but a good deal of hand waving and gesticulating told me that we weren’t getting focaccia, not on top of two pizzas and a mixed salad, anyway.  Too much to eat, apparently.

What we did get was sensational.

A capricciosa laden with ham, olives, egg and mushroom and a prosciutto with little more than a few slices of thin ham.  The economy of the toppings, each on a spare base of tomato and mozzarella gave the pizza a balance that’s completely lacking in most British versions.  Too often, I now realise, we overload the topping at the expense of the base.

The only way to get extremely good results with pizza is to cook it in a wood burning oven.  The key to a really great pizza is heat, and Il Leoncino’s furnace like oven had plenty of that, heating the entire room and filling it with the smell of scorched dough, browning mozzarella and smoke.

It’s hard to describe something so simple but tasty.  The Roman style of pizza is all about that simplicity…a thin and crisp base with a scant covering of tomato, a little more cheese and a few simple toppings.  There’s no room here for modern twists or outrageous ingredients – this is just traditional Roman pizza made with traditional Roman ingredient in the traditionally Roman way.

Il Leoncino serve a perfect example of exactly this.

And that’s just fine.

Il Leoncino

Via del Leoncino 28

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7 comments… add one

  • Darren Cronian Oct 23, 2010

    OMG those pizza's look delicious! Which restaurant would you say does the best pizza in Leeds? :)

    • Lester Fontayne Oct 23, 2010

      Darren…. your best bet is probably Brio. I haven't found a better one in Leeds. The owner, Franco Pardini, was one of the first to introduce pizza to the UK and has been banging them out for over forty years so he should know a thing or two. He seems to be based mostly at their Thorpe Park (Colton) branch. It's worth a visit as he's quite a character.

      • Darren Cronian Oct 23, 2010

        Thanks Lester – I've tried Brio's, but the one in the Light. The pizza was good. The best place I have found pizza in Leeds is Cucchina in Pudsey, and that's a takeaway!

        Rich, I haven't eaten at Diva Italiana and I am only 5 mins walk away. I will have to try it out one day soon.

    • rich Oct 23, 2010

      That's a tricky one. I've yet to try it, but a certain Italian coffee shop owner has encouraged me to try Diva Italiana and claims it's the real deal…

  • Lester Fontayne Oct 23, 2010

    Somebody book me a flight… now!

    After reading all the hype, I recently tried the pizza at Franco Manca in London and it was a revelation. Theirs is in the Neapolitan style, so I'm now on the lookout for somewhere that'll do it like you've described here.

    You're right about the toppings; the star of any pizza should be the bread, closely followed by the tomato sauce

  • dining table Oct 25, 2010

    I would love to go to Rome to taste this delicious pizza of theirs. It looks delicious and has a unique style.

  • Liam O'Malley Oct 25, 2010

    Those look SO good. The prosciutto looks to die for.

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