Having opened restaurants in Bologna, Castel Maggiore, Florence and Turin, Salvatore and Matteo Aloe are now bringing their pizza revolution to Milan. We are in downtown Isola – in Via Sebenico 17 – and we’re obviously talking about Berberè.
Those two words – pizza revolution – tend to inspire concern rather than excitement. And with good reason. They conjure images of extravagant and unusual toppings: truffle oil, fried eggs or, god forbid, pineapple. Relax. There isn’t a single pineapple ring in sight at Berberè.
Berberè’s menu is actually rather safe (and reassuringly concise). There are six “rosse” (tomato-based), seven “bianche” (fior di latte-based), and one “viola” (beetroot-based) styles of pizza on offer. The latter is admittedly a little daring, but by-and-large the menu is dominated by old favorites mozzarella, prosciutto, and nduja.
What’s revolutionary about this pizza lies beneath the toppings – deep in the dough. Instead of using fresh yeast like that which is used in traditional Neapolitan-style pizza, Berberè uses living sourdough, which is far trickier to work with but transforms the texture of the pizza from soft and chewy, to crisp and crunchy throughout. The dough, which is leavened for 24 hours at a controlled temperature, has a slightly acerbic (in a good way) taste, and more depth than what you normally expect from this staple of Italian cuisine. It’s also easier to digest, which is just as well as Berberè’s share-plate philosophy means you’ll likely lose track of how many pizzas you’ve shoveled down your gob.
To give you some idea of how front-and-center the sourdough base is here, Berberè’s daily specials are not toppings combinations, they’re specialty doughs made with different types of grains like farro and enkir.
We arrive at Berberè at 8pm – just before the evening crush. There are three large dining rooms, all of them with a mix of funky graphics painted directly onto the wall and art prints that recall 1950s Milanese minimalism. The tables are simple Formica pieces, the kind you find in Italian elementary schools. The sound system is playing Kendrick Lamar and Rick Ross, but at a more reasonable volume than you’re probably used to hearing them. It’s an unashamedly hip restaurant, in a very hip neighborhood, but your parents wouldn’t feel uncomfortable if you treated them to a plate or two of very hip pizza here.
We begin with a starter of anchovies on toast with butter, which might seem like something you could make at home, if only you could buy Berberè’s stunning sourdough bread to take away. It’s a symphony of saltiness, creaminess and nuttiness – simple but utterly indulgent. We wash it down with craft beers from Lombard brewery, Brewfist, who seem as adept at fermentation as the boys from Berberè.
Our waitress (super friendly, super knowledgeable and super decisive) suggests we try one special dough pizza and one regular. Tonight’s special is farro. The dough is rich and earthy in flavor, though it sits so light in our stomachs. It comes topped with achingly sweet straciatella and prosciutto crudo, but what really ties it all together is the orange infused olive oil drizzled on top. The beetroot base on our second pizza is slightly off the mark, but the dough once again is bang on. This is a pizza you might consider eating backwards. Crust first.
We wrap up with a mandarin and tonka bean sorbet to finish. Like the straciatella and crudo pizza, it’s deceptively simple and deeply satisfying.
Long live the revolution.