Simon Stanley visits the artisanal pizzeria everyone’s talking about. Photos by Vinh Dao.
“Why are your pizzas so ugly?” – Namo’s staff hear it all the time. For diners used to the mass-produced, perfectly round, photogenic pies churned out by those hangover-friendly pizza chains, the sight of a true Neapolitan pizza, it seems, can be quite a shock. Rustic? Yes. Homemade? Definitely. Artisanal? It’s in their tagline. Thick, bubbling, delicately charred crusts infused with the sweet smoke of a wood-oven? Mmm, yep. But ugly? No, no and no.
So, what makes an artisanal pizza?
“It’s the difference between a printed poster and a painted canvas,” says Julia Underwood, Namo’s marketing manager. “The more conventional pizzas aim for visual perfection. We aim for perfection in terms of taste and ingredients.”
Indeed, after a three-month search across Italy for the perfect pizza, Namo’s owners brought back more than just notes. Let’s start with the 3.5 tonne, dome-topped wood-oven sitting in the downstairs open-kitchen / bar area. Handmade in Naples, its bricks were forged from the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius itself. The flour, Caputa 00 – also imported from Naples – is one of the finest in existence and is widely considered to be a hallmark of genuine Neapolitan dough.
Throw in some of the best Italian chefs in the world, a pinch of salt, a touch of yeast and mineral water, and after just one bite you’ll understand why many are already hailing Namo’s “ugly” offerings as the best in town.
Split into classics and specials, choices cover everything from a Margherita (VND170,000) up to the Pescatora (VND450,000), a seafood feast of fresh crab, Atlantic salmon, seaweed, and shrimp roe.
Namo’s relaxed, homely decor, spread over four unique floors and layered with natural tones, contrasting materials and Scandinavian-esque purity, provides a cosy setting for informal, sociable dining. For groups, the La Famiglia is ideal, offering a taste of six pizzas in a single, one-metre-long sharer (VND1.8 million / VND900,000 for the half-metre version).
Pastas are also receiving plenty of attention. The veal fettuccine in particular is superb, consisting of handmade pasta, a touch of spice and a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano (VND270,000).
Italian wines start at a very reasonable VND120,000 per glass, and cocktails are all VND190,000, though the daily happy hour (5pm until 7pm) offers a 50 percent discount on everything (excluding bottles).
Proving that Italian cuisine goes far deeper than pizza and pasta, the enticing range of antipasti, salads, soups, grilled meat dishes and seafood is extremely hard for diners to overlook.
The truffle and pork sausage-stuffed chicken roulade (VND330,000) sounds too good to miss… but those pizzas, that dough… wow. Life is tough.
74/6 Hai Ba Trung, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: 08 3822 7988
Open 11am – 11pm, 7 days
Published April 2016 – AsiaLIFE Magazine