My 'hasta luego, Madrid' dinner took place, perhaps inappropriately, at an Italian restaurant. Following a recommendation from a friend of A, who claimed that it served the best pizza in Madrid, my lovely flatmates and I made our way to La Perla di Napoli to see if this claim proved true.
First impressions were far from overwhelming: while it's not exactly cutre, the restaurant certainly doesn't fall into the chic category either. Downstairs is a bar area, which filled with a very random selection of punters as the night wore on, while the main L-shaped dining area is upstairs. One wall is dominated by a night-time scene of Naples, under which sits a large fish tank devoid of aquatic life. You get the idea: it's a pretty strange place. Our growing suspicions were compounded by the very short menu (a few starters, pastas, pizzas and some meat and fish options) and lack of wine list: what kind of restaurant was this?
Upon ordering a bottle of lambrusco (there was no ordinary rosé to be had, believe me we asked), the lone waiter came to the assistance of the lone waitress, who found herself unable to open the bottle. The evening began its descent into farce when the waiter regaled us with an account the origins of the wine; an informative tale which included the memorable line 'Did you know that Italy is the shape of a boot?' Our starter of melanzane parmigiana (oven baked aubergines with parmesan) improved our opinions of La Perla: it was robust, just the right side of greasy and heaped with cheese. Our stone-baked pizzas followed suit: two proscuitto e funghi for the brothers and a vegetale for me. We eyed them with suspicion: they looked smaller than expected for €13 a pop, and the crust was thicker than anticipated.
One bite and our cynicism melted away: the base was delicious and much thinner than the puffy crust, and the cheese and tomato topping was beautifully rich. There were just enough vegetables scattered across my pizza; a selection of aubergines, artichokes, peppers and courgette. But the best part was the accompanying explanation, which began in a manner similar to children's bedtime stories: Os cuento la historia de la pizza? Suppressing wine-fuelled giggles, we listened and learned that the margherita pizza was created in Naples in honour of Queen Margherita's visit to the city: the mozzarella, tomato and basil were chosen to represent the colours of the Italian flag.
Too stuffed for dessert, we were offered a 'shot' of limoncello. Thinking of my friend C, a lover of this lemon liqueur who is currently exiled in Singapore, I readily accepted, only to be presented with an entire glass of the stuff. Naturally, the alcohol inspired further hilarity, leading A to ask for the story of the drink. In case you wondered, it's from Sorrento.
La Perla di Napoli isn't the cheapest restaurant in Madrid: €70 for one starter, 3 mains and a bottle of wine. But for the best pizza in the city (that I've tasted anyway) and guaranteed hilarity, it's a fair price to pay.
- La Perla di Napoli is at Calle de Santa Engracia 51 (metro Iglesia).
2014 update: La Perla di Napoli is no longer open. You'll have to go elsewhere to learn about the shape of Italy, sadly.