Monellis, a tiny Italian eatery in George Street, is the best restaurant in Hastings and St Leonards, according to customers who have left reviews on Tripadvisor - and the second best in the whole of East Sussex.
It is run by Frankie Ruffolo, 50, and his 44-year-old wife Francesca, and is famous for its sourdough pizzas.
The couple, from Puglia, Italy, ferment the pizza dough using a ‘mother’ sourdough starter - which was made by Frankie’s grandmother Emma Ruffolo in Italy in 1923.
“Sourdough is a very complex process behind the pizza,” says Frankie. “It takes a long time to do it, not only just the ingredients - the fermentation. So once the dough is done, it needs to ferment and wait for a long time.
“So we say at least two days, but to be honest we start to sell between two and six, sometimes even seven days, which is the strength of our product.”
He added: “My sourdough has got a proper PH - the acidity. I work hard for it. So when you get the right consistency on the acidity on the base, then what goes on top is very important.
“We import directly many products, and after Brexit it’s very complicated, so the tomato sauce we have here in Monellis is extremely sweet. Everything is precisely chosen and tested for months to get the pizza right.”
The fresh tomato sauce contains sweet, rosso gargano tomatoes from Puglia, and a pinch of salt. They add extra virgin olive oil just before it goes in the oven.
He does two types of pizzas - ones that have a tomato sauce base, and white pizzas that just have mozzarella and no tomatoes.
One of their most popular pizzas is the Calabrese, topped with Calabrian nduja spicy pork paste, mozzarella and fresh chilli.
Also a new pizza they have just launched called the Rosso, topped with Italian anchovies, red onion, capers, black olives, fresh basil and oregano.
“It’s very unique,” Frankie said. “There’s no cheese in there. In the UK, it’s quite strange if there’s no cheese on the pizza. But it’s meant to be this way - for the acidity and saltiness. There’s no point in putting fat on the pizza if you don’t need to.”
Another big hit is a white pizza called the Casanova - which has roast potatoes on the base, topped with smoked pancetta, mozzarella, smoked scamorza (Italian cow’s milk cheese), red onion and rosemary.
They also produce their own coffee called Briganti, which they serve in the restaurant.
The couple worked as commercial photographers in the UK for 15 years before opening the Hastings restaurant in December 2019 - just before the pandemic.
They admit the Covid lockdown and seating restrictions hit them hard, as it did all restaurants and pubs, but now they are full every day.
Frankie says it is “overwhelming” to be named as Hastings’ highest-rated restaurant on Tripadvisor.
They have 15 covers inside and another 24 seats outside, if the weather is good.
They have decided to shut on Mondays and Tuesdays because of staff shortages. He says like all catering businesses in the UK he is finding it hard to find staff.