Freddie and I were talking about Masaniello last week and Livio’s pizzas. Livio, co-owner and head chef of Masaniello, hails from Naples and thus knows a good deal about making an excellent pizza. We haven’t been for a long time, said Freddie. No, we haven’t, I said, so we’ll go soon, next time you’re on holiday. And since it’s half term this week, an opportunity soon presented itself and Freddie (nearly 7), Ben (4) and I set off from my house, down Twickenham high street and into Church Street, Twickenham’s prettiest street, and went into Masaniello.
We were quite early and so there was a choice of tables but the boys wanted the ‘table we had last time’ and so we sat fairly close to the front. I’ve noticed this with the boys, that they’re drawn to familiarity. I often take them to Gail’s Bakery for morning coffee, babyccinos and pastries, and they refer to the large oval table we first sat at as ‘our table’. Fortunately, the first time it wasn’t available, they took it in their stride. Soon menus were before us. Why have you got a brown one too? asked Ben. It’s the wine list, I told him, but Nonna isn’t having wine. However, I also found a soft drinks list in it and drinks were chosen: San Pellegrino lemonade for Freddie, apple juice for Ben and sparkling water – acqua frizzante – for Nonna. I suggested we share two pizzas between us. The pizzas are large and they’d never get through a whole one each, and I don’t like to eat a lot at lunchtime. A ‘Margherita’ was ordered and a ‘Masaniello’ – with Parma ham and rocket on it.
Livio saw us and came to say hello. A wonderful welcome! Freddie has been going there since he was a few months old, and Ben has been there many times too. Ciao, Freddie. Come stai? Livio asked him. Freddie looked slightly baffled. Livio is asking how you are, I told him. By the time we’d finished eating and were heading home, a few more Italian words were learnt: grazie to say thank you, gelato, per favore, to ask for ice cream. Listen, I said to the boys. We were surrounded by Italians and happy Italian talk could be heard. It was easy to dream of being temporarily transported to Italy.
It was even easier to dream of being in Italy – Naples, indeed – when the pizzas arrived.
I cut slices and passed them to the boys and put some on my own plate. We started with a slice of each. When their plates were empty and I offered seconds, both boys wanted more of the Masaniello – they like Parma ham!
We ate more than half of each but didn’t finish the pizzas. I asked the waiter if he could please put the leftovers in a takeaway pizza box so the boys could take them home.
They’d eaten well, but of course had to leave room for ice cream. They both practised saying ‘gelato‘. I asked the waiter for child-sized portions – just one boule – and he asked whether they wanted chocolate, vanilla, pistachio or coconut. Chocolate! they both said.
Freddie was sporting his Harlequins rugby kit. If you’re almost 7 (next week) and like rugby, then there can’t be a better place to be born and live than Twickenham, and Harlequins are the local team. The drive from their house to mine takes us past Twickenham Stadium – the third largest rugby stadium in the world, seating 82,000 spectators – and The Stoop, where Harlequins play, which seats a more modest 14,800. All in the space of about 6-7 minutes.
Nonna ordered a single espresso. That’s what you had last time, observed Freddie, taking a close look. What is it? A small, strong coffee, I told him. Maybe he thought it was a strange choice when I could have had chocolate ice cream too. But is was a perfect end to a lovely lunch for me.
Masaniello has long been a family favourite. Birthdays have been celebrated there, wedding anniversaries; I celebrated New Year’s Eve there with friends Linda and George in 2018; once lunched there with friend Jane who reminisced about holidays in Campania and was delighted when Livio joined her in talk of his home area. And sometimes we just fancy a family outing to a friendly ristorante where the atmosphere is always welcoming, children are always treated kindly and, after all these years, feels a little bit like a second home.