If real wizardry was what the people wanted, November’s red carpets would have been diverted from the Harry Potter premiere at Odeon Leicester Square to a great new coffee shop on St Martin’s Lane and a superb new pizzeria restaurant on Great Newport St.
Notes Music & Coffee is home to the UK’s first La Marzocco Strada, the Maserati of espresso machines. Sartori bakes its Neapolitan-styled pizzas in the wood-fired brick forno crafted by Strazzullo Michele, the Stradivarius of pizza ovens.
With its Strada platform La Marzocco introduces pressure profiling, a technology which allows the barista to customise espresso extraction to draw out certain flavour components and mute others. Ordinarily a barista would pull an espresso under a steady brew pressure of 9 bars for 25-30 seconds. With the Strada baristas can adjust the pressure as easily as a chef would the intensity of a burner.
Initially I dismissed pressure profiling as a gimmick and the Strada’s mechanical pressure paddle as nothing more than a play toy for baristas. (Sure I too wanted one in my bedroom, but that’s another story.) Notes Music & Coffee co-owner Fabio Ferreira changed my thinking in 60 seconds. He pulled two espressos for me using the same coffee blend – Has Bean’s Kicker – but changed their pressure profiles. He brewed the first shot under a pressure of 9 bars for the first 15 seconds and then lowered the pressure to 3 bars for the final 15 seconds. He brewed the second shot at 3 bars for the first 15 seconds, ramped up the pressure to 9 bars for an additional 10 seconds and then back down to 5 bars for the final 5 seconds.
The difference between the two was dramatic: The first shot delivered the lemon zing that puts the kick in Kicker. The second was sweeter and softer, likely the result, according to Ferreira, of the long, low-pressure “pre-infusion”. If any geek needed a rationale to spring for a gleaming new Strada, this was it.
The appeal of a Strazzullo Michele pizza oven, like that of a La Marzocco, can be as much about machismo as macchina. That the company’s made-to-order pizza ovens are now mostly exported to deep-pocketed clients in Japan, Korea, China and the USA only enhances their snob appeal back home in Naples. Thrilled merely to have Strazzullo Michele take its money, Sartori did not dictate such design details as the shape of oven’s benchtop or the colours and patterns of its decorative mosaic. Strazzullo Michele pretty much told Sartori how their Leicester Square oven was going to be.
The shiny, bright-coloured ceramic shell you see encasing the domes of brick ovens at famous pizzerias is missing. So, for that matter, is the dome – or at least the top of it. The low height and flattened roof of this model’s baking chamber enables even heat distribution and cooking. There’s little risk of incinerating the crust even before the mozzarella has melted and the dough has cooked through. Paolo, Sartori’s accomplished Neapolitan pizzaiolo, can liquify the fior di latte that floats over his exceptionally light Margherita without having to lift it up from the hot stone and suspend the pizza in the oven’s hottest reaches. The hot zones are everywhere.
Impressive as they are, the Strazzullo Michele pizza oven and La Marzocco Strada espresso machine depend on top-quality ingredients as well as the skill of the mano del operatore. At Notes Music & Coffee and Sartori the “operator’s hand” belongs to geeks who know enough to know there is always more to know.
Sartori, 15-18 Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7JE (map) – 020 7836 6308