Indie restaurants that stay open for more than a few years, building a reputation that spreads beyond their immediate neighbourhood, are rare these days.
So it's good news that Double Zero is celebrating eight years of dough perfection. Even better news that it has revealed it will expand to the city centre this year. In an uncertain time for hospitality, expansion of a well-loved independent brand is heartening to hear.
We sat down with the owner as he prepared to blow out the birthday candles, for a chat about the history, present and future of one of Greater Manchester's favourite pizza restaurants.
They say a good restaurant will always let the food do the talking. The same can be said for good restaurateurs. Having helped usher in a new era in the Manchester base scene, Double Zero catalysed a revolution that has seen standards of Italy’s best-loved culinary creation rocket across the city. By focusing on exceptionally fresh ingredients and processes that can be traced back to the old country, this establishment has long been recognised in the top tier of casual dining. A place where the product is so good, you don’t need publicity. Or indeed a name to go off.
“I don’t really want to be in the article, so just call me The Owner,” The Owner of Double Zero tells us as we start the tape recording and ask for details of their background. “Before this I was a chef, but I originally trained as a civil engineer. Then the financial crisis in 2008 changed a lot of things, and here I am now. Before Double Zero opened I ran a takeaway and had worked as a chef for around four years. I taught myself everything I know in terms of making the pizzas.”
Some learning curve, The Owner bought an oven for his garden at home and set about experimenting with perfecting the formula for pizza, using online videos as guides. The fact Double Zero has now spent seven years in the Top 10 on Trip Advisor for food in Greater Manchester only makes that back story more impressive.
“When we first opened, a lot of people didn’t really know what Neapolitan pizza was. That soft, chewy crust. We had some customers asking if it was really traditional pizza," he says.
“Everything here is in the Naples style - from the exact temperature to dough preparation. We always have a lot of Italian people coming to eat, and some even arrive straight from the airport after landing. At the moment one of our regular groups is from Italy, and they say it’s the best in town."
We ask for the secret behind that success. “Just follow the basics, do those things correctly and get the proper ingredients. All of ours are imported from Italy except for the vegetables.
“We work on the dough for longer than anywhere else, so it has that nice yeasty sourdough flavour. Some places keep it for 24 hours, we do much longer than that,” The Owner explains.
“A lot of places use gas ovens, too. Ours is wood-fired. It offers a different heat and therefore a different taste compared to a coal oven, which they use in America a lot, and a gas oven. Wood is more of an all-round heat, but it’s harder to keep it at the right temperature. We always use wood, even though it’s three or four times more expensive at the moment.”
Proudly, we’re told the oven is a Steffano Ferrera, Italy’s most famous manufacture of high-end pizza kit. It’s so powerful The Owner spent this morning cooking ox cheek and pork belly without needing to relight the flames - temperature still high enough to roast after the previous evening’s service had finished. The perfect conditions for ensuring meat does not dry out, and instead - as anyone who has tried Double Zero’s carne options will attest - can be served wonderfully moist.
“The Mielle Sizzler is a popular choice,” The Owner says after we ask about consistent fan favourites from the menu. “That’s chorizo, hot honey, nduja, and Calabrese. Also the Mezzaluna, half calzone and half pizza with ham, mushroom and mortadella. Not many places do calzone in the UK as it’s harder to cook it the same inside and out. People have always really enjoyed it though and we get a lot of orders.
“My wife was trying to put me off opening, as she was worried about how hard it would be and how the overheads might be difficult. I was never worried about that because I knew that this would work. And it has, which is why we’re expanding,” he reveals, “For the last eight years we’ve not really thought about that idea, we have three kids all under 10, so time was important.
"But now we have a new place in town, close to Six by Nico and Black Sheep Coffee on Fountain Street. It’s going to be the same setup, same type of oven. We applied for planning already and it will be three, maybe three-and-a-half months until it’s ready. We know our business and we know we will do well in the city.”
Big news for any Double Zero fan - and, let’s face it, most of us are by now.
On top of the impending second site, the Chorlton original is also set to unveil a brand new menu to mark its eighth birthday this weekend. “We’re celebrating with some new pizzas. I can’t really say what they are right now,” he says through the kind of knowing smile that oozes understated confidence.
When pressed, he does reveal that a birthday special for this weekend will feature a special pistachio cream base, smoked scamorza cheese, purple potato, speck and burrata. Look out for pictures and video of us enjoying that one on our social media channels soon.
Meanwhile, we'll be back for a first look at the new city centre Double Zero later in the year. What a birthday present that news is.