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Wood Works at Basilico

Operations Manager and Head Chef Mauricio Cabrera moves Mountains for real pizzas.

About Basilico

When Basilico opened its doors in London in 1998, there was nobody doing pizza the really authentic Italian way. Hard to imagine it now but Buffalo Mozzarella was a rarity, rocket a novelty and pesto was still a speciality product. Then, along came Basilico with homemade dough, proper Italian ingredients, Mamma’s secret recipes and – essential to replicate the true pizzeria taste – a wood fired oven. Rome had come to London’s Fulham.

Today the company still make their own dough daily and deliver it to the 12 London branches of Basilico. The stores offer top quality takeaway pizzas, cooked in the traditional fashion to classic Italian recipes with a range of more contemporary flavour combinations also on offer. They import their Fior di Latte mozzarella directly, every week from the Treviso area; and the charcuterie also comes straight from Italy and is sliced and packed by Basilico.

“Our shops have no freezers, no additives or preservatives are used and all our produce is fresh,” explains Operations Manager and Head Chef Mauricio Cabrera who has been with the company since the beginning. “We keep an eye on the trends in Italy and here in the UK and make sure we reflect them in our recipes. We are always updating the menus to keep in line with what is happening in the food world, for example this year we are offering both vegetarian and vegan pizzas.”

“A wood oven is at the very heart of the Italian pizzeria and a pizza doesn’t taste the same cooked any other way,” says Mauricio.

“We started our business with brick ovens built by hand in the traditional way and fired with wood. They worked beautifully for a while and the business began to expand and gain a good reputation, but then the bricks started to crumble under the intense heat and the ovens needed restoration. Often at Christmas we had to close some down, let them cool, get the bricks repointed and then fire them up again – in all four days when we weren’t in business. We had to think again.”

The answer came with the Mountain series from Wood Stone, supplied by Jestic. Big, bold and fired solely by wood or gas, these ovens are the living, breathing heart of the Basilico brand. Currently installed in seven branches, Mauricio hopes to introduce them to the other branches in due course.

“Wherever possible we have the Wood Stone ovens at the very centre of the store so the customers can see the theatre of the wood and the flames and we use composite wooden logs to fire them. We chose the wood-fired ovens as we believe this gives the pizzas the most authentic taste – the wood imparts a flavour that cannot be emulated with gas or electric. The ovens are a big part of our layout and the most important part of our store – not only do they look fantastic, they make great pizzas.”

And unlike the traditional ovens, the Wood Stone ovens do not need pointing or indeed any maintenance although the associated chimneys do need occasional cleaning. The oven is installed all in one piece and can be customised to suit the look of the restaurant. At Basilico the oven has been given a rustic look with the application of a render to the exterior.

The ovens are not difficult to install and once proved, can run without interruption indefinitely. They are one of the only wood fired ovens to be approved by DEFRA for use in London, which makes them uniquely suitable for premises located in big cities. Inside the ovens is a solid stone base which cooks the pizzas perfectly. The roof is deeply insulated keeping the heat high to produce consistent results.

“Jestic also supply us with Somerset Dough Rollers for use with making our pizza bases, and in all we have been working with the company for nearly 20 years. They are extremely helpful and very quick to come out if we need them to,” says Mauricio.

“I would not hesitate to recommend Jestic and Wood Stone Ovens to anyone who is planning to open a pizza restaurant. There are different sizes of ovens and they are available in various configurations so you can choose the oven to suit your needs, and you can be confident of receiving really excellent service.”