The fetish for “authenticity” has become such a laboured point in food marketing that inevitably restaurants have felt a need to one-up each other in the “authentic cuisine” stakes. With concepts like “wood-fired” and “stone baked” becoming increasingly standard for pizzas even in the form of decent pub grub (and even the “in a real Italian pizzeria” marketing of frozen pizza), it is clear that a pizza place is going to have to go the extra mile to create a sense of the especially authentic. That brings us to Ecco, a pizzeria right here in Headingley that promises not just pizza, but the “most authentic Neapolitan pizza” using “centuries old” techniques.
“We want to provide the same quality of pizza as you would expect when eating in the back streets of Naples,” states the website of this restaurant, which continues the Neapolitan theme by also providing gelato. As we visited the ancestral home of pizza not too long ago, and did indeed enjoy quality pizza in the city’s back streets, we both looked forward to seeing what Ecco could provide and discovering the truth behind their promises.
The decor of both restaurant and menu continues the Neapolitan narrative – talking about the history of pizza in Naples, the rules for making Neapolitan pizza, and the fact that the most committed Neapolitan pizzerias refuse to serve any more toppings than the classic margherita and marinara. At least in this respect, Ecco’s menu departs very quickly from the commitment to Neapolitan food, offering a cornucopia of internationally inspired toppings, from the Kingston (jerk chicken, jalapenos and sweetcorn) to the Hong Kong (sweet chilli prawns, pak choi, and more sweetcorn – Seriously, guys, what’s with all the sweetcorn? It’s the worst pizza topping since pineapple). Meanwhile, I’ve only been to Naples a couple of times, but I do recall “Nutella dough balls” as being conspicuous by their absence.
This, however, is no bad thing. For all the dubiously Neapolitan nature of some of the menu options, this level of choice is appealing. Yes, some of the pizzas sound terrible, but there’s also room for plenty of slightly unusual but excellent possibilities too. Potato on a pizza always sounds a little strange, but is typically a pleasure, and is so here. Ecco’s signature half-metre, half-and-half toppings pizza is also something I haven’t really seen in Italy, but is definitely an enjoyable sharing option.
The pizza bases, meanwhile, are not as crisp as in a Naples pizzeria, which actually gives them a quite appealing bready, doughy texture and consistency. It does make them a little difficult to eat with your hands as the base is a little soft and limp, but at least this is not through greasiness.
Even with the influence more Naples than New York, Ecco still has a feel of being efficient fast food, rather than charming dining. Although the pizzas are definitely very good, the restaurant itself lacks atmosphere and the service is attentive in a “trying to get as many people in and out as possible” sort of way.
Ecco has no drinks licence, which is mildly frustrating and certainly detracts from the genuine feel of a Naples pizzeria. It’s relatively fast food-ish nature, however, does encourage both take out and delivery (through Deliveroo). Perhaps, if you’re in the area, ordering from home (and having your pizza with a bottle of wine) is the best use of what Ecco have to offer. It might not quite match the real thing, but its good quality pizzas would in every way trump the “Italian” base on offer at the Domino’s across the street (or any other home ordering option you’re likely to have).
So, ultimately, is it “authentic”? No, not particular. Does that mean the pizzas aren’t good? No, they’re pretty good. But Ecco’s headed to the top of our “at home in front of a DVD” dining options, rather than “dinner and a movie out”.
Professor Plum in the Dining Room: It’s always a little disconcerting when you find a place that doesn’t serve alcohol. It’s a certain kind of confidence – “customers will come regardless” – but there’s also something a bit cheap about not even bothering with a licence. I had fancied a glass of wine, too. I just had to have ice cream to make up for it, you understand. The ice cream is the star here, and it was noticeable that people were queueing up to take it away. The pizza is good, don’t get me wrong, but it was a little on the doughy side. Like Mustard says, this place makes for better takeaway than eat in, but there’s no harm done there.
(personally, I like sweetcorn on a pizza, though it makes more sense on something american style than Neapolitan)
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