It is always a pleasure to watch the world pass by from Eco. To have our customers bring us news from their worlds, their views and perspectives and how we interact with eachother as people on a micro level. It is interesting to realise how little we credit the true impact of who we are and the flow of change we bring about every moment of our lives from when we are brought into it until the moment we leave it.
To have a restaurant is a blessing because we can effect change in a greater scale through our interactions. That we can provide you comfort through your palette, a place to rest, to be and spend time with your friends, family, lover or colleague. These interactions with eachother and self add further dimensions to the being that we refer to as Eco; which is a collection of our memories, moments, dramas, comedies from over the past 20 years.
One of the most colourful characters in the short history of modern Italy must undoubtedly be Queen Margherita of Savoy.
Born in 1851 Margherita, daughter of Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Genoa and Princess Elizabeth of Saxony, married her first cousin Umberto, Prince of Piedmont, in 1868. The only child to the marriage was the diminutive Victor Emmanuel, Prince of Naples, later to become Victor Emmanuel III of Italy in a reign that was to last almost to the end of the Italian monarchy (his son Umberto II acceding to the throne just in time to see the nation vote to become a republic in 1946).
In 1878 Umberto became King of Italy and Margherita the Queen consort. Both ruled until 1900, when Umberto was assassinated by an anarchist.
Although nobody knows the real truth of the matter, stories abound that the royal marriage was not a happy one, and that there were in fact more than two people in it. Umberto, it is said, was actually in love with another woman with whom he is alleged to have fathered a child. In an eerie parallel of a more recent situation, Margherita was loved by the people despite being spurned by her husband, her wisdom and cultural awareness lending much to the young cause of Italian unification.
Her place in pizza history was sealed with a tour of the Italian Kingdom in 1889 where she is said to have been intrigued by the sight of peasants eating this large, flat bread seasoned with olive oil. As the story goes she tried it herself and liked it very much, causing much flapping amongst Italian court circles who believed it to be demeaning for the Queen to be seen in public eating peasant food.
Undeterred, she continued to indulge her passion and eventually summoned the chef Rafaelle Esposito who baked a special pizza just for her comprising tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and herbs – the red, white and green of the Italian flag.
Thus was the Margherita pizza born, which today is held by the purists to be one of only two or three “real” pizza dishes.
At Eco Restaurant, one of the most well-known and popular restaurants on Clapham High Street, the still famous Margherita is baked on a light, nutritious dough base which is healthy as well as delicious and brings out the taste of the sumptuous toppings to the full. It is truly a right royal delight.
I will never forget the expression of confused horror on my father’s face as he contemplated the price list upon the wall at the fish and chip shop in Liverpool. For there amongst the mushy peas, pies, saveloys and pasties was a little local delicacy that went by the name of “fish”.
“What kind of fish do you sell?” he asked the girl behind the counter.
She looked at him a little bemused, and gestured with her hand to indicate a marine life form given to swimming through the water.
The whole experience was a real culture shock to my London-born father. Down here in the Smoke we have a choice between cod, rock (dogfish), skate, plaice and haddock to name but a few.
We have already seen how the earliest eating houses served only one basic meal of the day. Try to imagine a busy street featuring only one make of car, and only one model in only one colour. If in your despondency you should retire to the pub for solace try to envision your reaction to the news that it only sells one brand of beer.
Thus it is with pizza, where the fresh ingredients are brought together to form a topping oozing with flavour, whether your preference happens to be pepperoni, four cheeses, seafood or spicy hot. It is the measured blend of all these toppings that brings out the pizza as a whole and that makes it what it describes itself as.
It would be a boring restaurant that merely offered “pizza”, without any description as to what has gone into it. After all, people are different and we all have different tastes.
Fortunately at Eco Restaurant, one of the most popular Clapham restaurants, the customer is spoilt for choice. Whatever topping takes your fancy, whether you like your pizza folded or open plan, or even if you prefer pasta or something entirely different, there is something at Eco for everybody.
Whilst doing a little research into the history of Clapham I was a little taken aback by the following description from Wikipedia:
“Clapham has numerous public houses and several small shops; including a post office, Chinese and Indian takeaways, fish and chips, a florist, a hairdresser; also it has two churches. It has its own lower school for children aged 4–9, Ursula Taylor Lower School. In the nearby village of Oakley is Lincroft Middle School for children aged 9–13. It has three pubs, the Horse and Groom, the Fox and Hounds and the Star, as well as these there is also a club called "Clapham Club". There is also an Italian restaurant, Bellini’s.”
A post office? A florist? Two churches and one school?
And just one Italian restaurant?
It took a few moments for the penny to drop. Wiki is in fact describing another Clapham, this one in rural Bedfordshire. It would appear to be most famous for hosting the airfield from which the legendary band leader Glenn Miller took off on his last fateful flight, never to return.
Our Clapham, by contrast, doesn’t have an airfield to call its own, although it is a reasonable travelling distance from Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. It has lots and lots of shops – florists, post offices, hairdressers – and churches and other places of worship of all denominations and faiths. It has many schools, and more pubs than even Oliver Reed in his prime could have visited in an evening.
And as for Italian restaurants, although it is not the only one in town Eco Restaurant’s faithful band of regular visitors will tell you that it is the best restaurant in Clapham, indeed many swear that our fine team of staff serve what is in actual fact the best pizza in London.
It may be a bit of a hike from Bedfordshire, but we have the busiest train station in Europe so if any of our Clapham brethren should feel the call of pizza and Bellini’s is closed there will always be a warm welcome for them at the Common.
There isn’t an obvious connection between the home of the pizza and an English soccer team from the East Midlands currently dwelling somewhere mid-table in the Npower Football League One.
So those not in the know might be surprised to learn that the mighty Juventus, one of the true giants of Italian football, “borrowed” their famous black and white strip from the not quite so legendary Notts County.
Hard though it may seem to credit, Juve originally plied their trade in a fetching pink shirt with a black tie, and did not want to be confused with Palermo who, incredibly, played in the same colours. And so, in 1903, they asked one of their team members, John Savage, if any of his English connections could find them a more appropriate kit. Savage had a friend from Nottingham who was a big Magpies supporter, and he duly supplied Juventus with a full set of County colours.
And so the unlikely connection between the oldest surviving professional football club in the world and one of the greatest and most famous was born.
That could have been the end of it, but in early September last year Juve chose Notts County in preference to Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan or Manchester United to celebrate the opening of their new stadium with a friendly match which finished in a 1-1 draw. But in spite of what they would have considered a disappointing result the Turin side did at least get to wear the black and white shirt, with County playing in their blue striped away kit.
Turin of course is one of the big pizza heartlands of Italy, one of its most popular dishes being the pizza al padellino (originally from Tuscany), a small “pizza for one” baked in a round dish in such a way that the edges maintain a particular crispiness that sets off the succulent topping so well.
Now Clapham is probably a place less immediately associated in the annuls of world cuisine with the glorious pizza, but fare to compare can be found if one looks hard enough, in one of the most popular restaurants in Clapham.
Eco Restaurant in Clapham Common serves one of the tastiest and most sought after pizzas in the capital. With a light nutritious base and a wide range of delicious toppings to choose from Eco is well and truly in the champions league.
There would appear to be an element of dispute as the whereabouts of the first restaurants, and to the time that they appeared.
According to some it all began in eighteenth century France, when a guy by the name of Boulanger, a soup vendor, opened a shop selling a variety of broths and dishes that could be partaken of on the premises. The sign over the shop read “Restaurants”, meaning restoratives, and the term caught on and eventually made its way into the English language about a century or so later.
Prior to this food had been available to eat in at sundry taverns and coffee shops, not least in England, but these had tended to serve just the one meal of the day rather than customers being offered a choice. According to one English writer the coffee shops “are a resort for learned scholars and wits; others are the resort of dandies, or of politicians, or again of professional newsmongers, and many are temples of Venus.”
But the French claim is disputed by many historians, who point to much earlier examples both in Ancient Rome and eleventh century China.
Roman citizens visited what was known as thermopolia, small restaurant-bars which had storage vessels physically built into the counters, in which food and drink were contained. Communal dining of this kind formed an important part of the social interaction enjoyed by the Roman population. In Pompeii alone 158 thermopolia have been identified, giving some idea of the scale of the phenomenon across the Empire.
And in China a culture of eating houses serving a wide variety of dishes emerged in Kaifeng, the northern capital during the earlier part of the Song dynasty. This spread to Hangzhou during the latter half of the dynasty, of which it was written “The people of Hangzhou are very difficult to please. Hundreds of orders are given on all sides: this person wants something hot, another something cold, a third something tepid, a fourth something chilled; one wants cooked food, another raw, another chooses roast, another grill”.
It is the availability of choice that seems to define the restaurant as opposed to the mere tavern or coffee house. Today one has a wide choice available not just on the menu of every restaurant, but also between types of restaurant. In the cities in particular foods from all around the world are on offer, from Indian and Chinese to Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. The world is your oyster, or indeed your curry, your paella or your spring roll.
The Eco Restaurant in Clapham Common caters for those whose love is pizza, although a large number of other dishes are sold and all are prepared and cooked to our demanding high standards. We’ve come a long way since diners had to sit at the counter and eat from communal bowls, but our own little thermopolium is as popular and as friendly as any restaurant ever was.
I was perplexed when my little niece told me, so adamantly, that she wanted to go to Italy. Not France, not Spain, not Germany – nor even America to visit Disneyland, Australia to view the Opera House or the Middle East to seek the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Definitely Italy.
It was unusual for a four-year-old to be so definite and assertive about these things. Curiosity inspired me to ask why.
The attraction was, apparently, because there was a tower there. Not any ordinary tower, furthermore, but one that is made of pizza. It was a leaning tower. The Leaning Tower of Pizza.
Her eagerness to experience the delights of this unique architectural delicacy persuaded me to find out more. I had not, after all, ever been to Italy, and had never experienced the unlikely pleasure of a sightseeing trip to a 183-foot margherita.
She was wrong about the tower, of course, but the Leaning Tower of Pisa nonetheless has a fascinating history. Not least the fact that it actually took 177 years to build, plenty of time in other words to have commissioned a full survey into the condition of the subsoil and the required depth of the foundations.
Despite its height the tower has a foundation of a mere three feet. To compensate for its tilt, which clearly manifested itself before the build was even completed, the upper floors were built with one side taller than the other. And then, in 1282, construction was interrupted by a battle in which the native Pisans were defeated by the Genoans.
The seventh floor was completed in 1319, and the bell chamber was finally added in 1372. The final design managed to harmonise the Gothic appearance of the bell chamber with the Romanesque style of the building itself. There are seven bells in all, each representing a note on the musical scale.
The Eco Restaurant Clapham, by contrast, does not lean to one side and did not take anything near 177 years to build. Nevertheless it attracts its own steady stream of visitors, although most come less to see the sights or to savour its architectural originality (much though we are rather fond of it) than to sample what many insist is the best pizza in London, with its healthy light base and fresh, healthy ingredients.
Indeed in an age of fast-food mediocrity, we believe a restaurant like ours is a tower of strength
Anchovies have much in common with a certain yeast product. Generally one tends either to love them or to hate them.
And yet of those who would have you believe they hate the taste of anchovy, how many will actually have tried them? How many of them indeed use Worcestershire Sauce or Green Goddess Dressing to add interest to their foods, and enjoy the added ingredient?
Are anchovies disliked by some because they taste wrong? Or is it because they have a tendency to stare up and you, and eating fish that still has its skin on and isn’t battered in breadcrumbs is not considered, well, normal?
The anchovy has a very distinctive taste, although much of this is down to the curing process. When eaten fresh the taste is distinctly milder. Nevertheless its presence in any dish adds a punch of flavour, which is why even when not being served up whole their juice is felt to add interest to a recipe or even to a sauce.
Anchovies are a small, oily saltwater fish found in large shoals close to the shore – sometimes indeed in muddy estuaries at the mouth of a river. They inhabit temperate waters as far north as Norway but are found in particularly large quantities around the Mediterranean. They have the dubious distinction of being regarded as a favourite food of most predatory saltwater fish, as well as many species of bird.
In Clapham, South London, they are to be found adorning several types of pizza at the Eco Restaurant, said by many to serve up the best pizza in London. It is an essential ingredient in the Napoletana, the Capricciosa and the Quattro Stagioni, all popular pizza recipes from the famous Eco range.
If you are an anchovy lover you can rest assured that we bring out the very best taste in every pizza in which they feature. If you think you are an anchovy hater come along and let’s see whether we can change your mind.
Everybody associates pizza with Italy, notwithstanding that it is these days a joyously cosmopolitan dish, with variants of local character emanating from all around the Mediterranean, the United States and even the Far East.
Cuisine is one the things that the Italians do particularly well. Another is singing.
Think of an Italian belting out a song and the chances are the image will be one of a portly tenor, impeccably attired and motionless other than much expression with the hands as he puts everything he has into perfecting his art. The esperto, calmly reassured in his mastery of the notes.
Yet in popular music too, despite it being a largely English-speaking medium, artists of Italian descent are surprisingly commonplace, particularly for some reason amongst female solo singers. Not for nothing has the Italian word diva found its way from the opera into the world of pop.
One of the biggest female solo artists of recent decades, indeed one of the biggest names in pop itself regardless of genre, is of course Madonna. Madonna Louise Ciccone, to use her full name, is an Italian American from Bay City, Michigan. Madonna’s athletic dance routines, the way she dressed, her use of Catholic imagery (sometimes provocatively), her memorable songs and original voice all combined to make her one of the most successful artists of the 1980s. She even managed to persuade the drinks giant Pepsi to pay her five million dollars not to make a commercial for them, which is good business in anybody’s book.
Another sultry diva who emerged in Madonna’s wake was Gwen Stefani, originally Gwen Renée Stefani – another Italian American, this time from California – who was lead singer of the successful band No Doubt before launching herself as a solo artist for several years, then rejoining her old group. Like Madonna she was revered for her platinum blonde hair and good looks, which led her to be awarded the part of Jean Harlow in the 2004 biopic The Aviator.
Today’s blonde bombshell is the enigmatic Lady Gaga and yes, you’ve guessed it, she is of course an Italian American who was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Lady Gaga’s success lies in her innovative stage performances sometimes bordering on the bizarre. Her consistently changing image borrows a great deal from the artistic philosophy of David Bowie, whom she acknowledges as an influence, whilst her daring and at times gory stage act has more than a hint of Alice Cooper about it.
Which takes the author back to his own childhood, back to the dawn of time, when long before the peroxide dance routines of Madonna, Stefani and Gaga there was a little lass dressed all in leather and plucking at a bass guitar almost as big as herself. Those of a certain age will remember Suzi Quatro, a surname shortened from Quattrocchi by her paternal grandfather. A pocket battleship if ever there was one.
But if pizza could sing, there is a good chance it would be called Eco. And we challenge you to shorten that.
Basil Fawlty – The barking mad hotelier created and made famous back in the seventies by the hysterically funny John Cleese.
Basil so wanted to inject a touch of class into his modest 22-room bed and breakfast in Torquay, but his efforts were not appreciated by his guests who “want to be waited on hand and foot” while he was trying to run a hotel.
Neither was he ever spared the usually unwelcome attentions of his acidic wife Sybil or the escapades of his crazy Spanish waiter Manuel.
Still, he plodded along, lumbering effortlessly from one disaster to the next. Just don’t mention the war.
Basil d’Oliveira – Cricketing legend d’Oliveira sadly passed away just a few days before this article was written. Prevented from playing first class cricket in his native South Africa under apartheid, he emigrated to England in 1960 and played test cricket into his forties and county cricket almost into his fifties, building up an astonishing tally of runs.
In 1968 South Africa’s refusal to allow him into the country as a member of the England test team led to the cancellation of the tour in what was to become known as the d’Oliveira Affair.
In 2005 he was awarded the CBE, and a stand at New Road in Worcester was named in his honour.
Basil Brush – Probably the world’s most famous fox, Mr. Brush looks good for his almost fifty years and is still a big hit with the youngsters.
For many years Basil had his own children’s show, as well as having appeared in Blue Peter, French and Saunders, The Weakest Link, Fantasy Football League, Crackerjack and Are You Being Served, amongst others.
In 2009 he was presented with an ACE award for his services to entertainment. Boom, boom!
Pizza Pomodoro – Liberally applied with tomato and capers, the unmistakable taste of fresh basil on this scrumptious and healthy light-base pizza makes it one of the sought-after specialities at Eco, the best Italian restaurant Clapham Common has to offer.
The Basilico di Dufala pizza, meanwhile, combines layers of succulent mozzarella with basil, tomato sauce and garlic to create an altogether different experience for
the hungry visitor.
The Eco Restaurant Clapham offers a warm welcome and a menu full of options containing herbs and spices bringing out the best in our delicious, finely cooked food. Why not come along and give it a try?