It was the year 1993. Boyzone made their debut. Jurassic Park was number one at the box office. Manchester United had become champions of the brand-new FA Premier League. And Eco opened in Clapham High Street! An immediate sensation, it was voted ‘trendiest restaurant in London’ by Time Out magazine upon opening. Since then, this legendary family-run, multi award-winning pizzeria – named after Umberto Eco’s novel-turned-film ‘The Name of The Rose’ which was then playing at the Clapham Picture House next door – has conquered every adversity. Whether it’s recession, Brexit and even a global pandemic, nothing has got in the way of its success. An exclusive feature by FnB columnist Riccha Grrover for Asian Lite International.
The restaurant has not only survived but thrived, unlike so many of its competitors. To celebrate their 30 year milestone of Eco, owner Sami Wasif, whose passion for superior ingredients and Mediterranean style hospitality have been at the heart of Eco’s success, offered customers the chance to step back in time and dine out at 1993 prices on their 30th anniversary day!
Through the years what hasn’t changed is the quality of the pizzas. No less than four different flour types are combined to create naturally fermented dough. This living, breathing organism is then left to rise in two stages (the first for a minimum of 12 hours) before being cooked at 400 degrees for around 90 seconds. The result? A full-flavoured, crispy base that is light and easy to eat.
The toppings are equally irresistible. All pizzas are baked with organic tomato sauce, created from the finest Italian tomatoes that are chosen six months in advance, the best fior di latte mozzarella, fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil.
Proud to have given its customers a totally different dining experience for three decades, Eco looks forward to another 30 years as Clapham’s favourite eatery.
A meal experience at Eco is extraordinary, friendly and welcoming staff; charming relaxed interiors; quick and attentive service; excellent tasting food; very generous portion sizes; freshest tasting ingredients; decadent desserts…surely will be a meal to remember! Very Highly Recommended.
About Sami Wasif
Sami Wasif was born in Beni Suef, Egypt, a farming town on the West Bank of the River Nile. Part of a large family, he was particularly close to his grandfather, Gerges, who, according to the Pharaonic farming calendar, was responsible for the blessing and distribution of sourdough to the local townspeople during the Spring Equinox.
After graduating from university in Sudan, Sami travelled throughout Europe and became obsessed with authentic Italian pizza.
In 1976 he moved to London and was unimpressed by the pizza he found there. Drawing on what he had learnt from his grandfather, Sami then spent years perfecting his own secret sourdough recipe. He brought all his skills to bear on his first business, the iconic Pizzeria Franco – the establishment that inspired the famous Franco Manca chain – which he purchased from Franco himself in 1989.
Under Sami and his wife Laura, the restaurant was a huge success, so much so that when the opportunity arose to build a larger eatery in Clapham Common, the couple jumped at the chance.
For three decades, Eco, has stayed true to its neighbourhood feel, still using the authentic sourdough recipe that Sami has evolved from the one he first witnessed over half a century ago in Beni Suef.
One of eight brothers and sisters, Sami Wasif was born in Beni Suef, Egypt, a farming town on the West Bank of the River Nile. From a young age he was involved in his father’s business fabricating and merchandising leather products sourced from the commercial streets of Cairo.
It was Sami’s grandfather, Gerges, who during the Spring Equinox festival would produce and distribute the annual bread ‘starter’, also known as the ‘mother dough’, and distribute it to the villagers on the first day of the new season. As part of the process, he would gather the morning dew for his recipe and then pray
over the dough every day for seven days before it was ready.
Gerges in turn passed his knowledge on to Sami’s father, and the story of his skill and dedication never quite left his grandson.
Sami left home to attend university in Cairo, where he took on an increasingly important role in his father’s business.
After graduating, he travelled throughout Italy where he became obsessed with authentic pizza. In 1976 Sami moved to London and was disappointed by the pizza he found there. Drawing on what he had learnt from his family and community, he spent years perfecting his own recipe. Aside from the ingredients and the actual process, he also accounted for changes in the season, the atmosphere, the water and even the hands that make it in his determination to bring authentic sourdough to the UK.
Sami brought all his skills to bear on his first business, the iconic Pizzeria Franco – the restaurant that inspired the famous Franco Manca chain – which he purchased from Franco himself in 1989.
Under Sami and his wife Laura, the restaurant was a huge success, with queues regularly snaking around the block. When the opportunity arose to convert, refurbish and rebrand a larger eatery on Clapham High Street – a former branch of Morley’s Fried Chicken – the couple jumped at the chance.
Since then, the restaurant has not only survived but thrived, staying true to its neighbourhood feel and still using the authentic sourdough recipe that Sami has evolved from the one he first witnessed over half a century ago in Beni Suef. Eco is just part of Sami’s extensive hospitality empire.
In 2000 he began working with Wagamama founder Alan Yau, becoming the major shareholder in the Michelin starred restaurants Hakkasan and Yauatcha. Sami was additionally responsible for project managing, refurbishment and design, together with the marketing of numerous remarkable, one-off London based concepts.
Sami continued to be the second largest shareholder in The Fulham Shore PLC – which bought Franco Manca and The Real Greek in March 2015 – until April of this year when The Fulham Shore itself was sold to Japanese company Toridoll for £93 million. By this stage there were 70 Franco Mancas across the UK and 27 Real Greeks. Remarkably it was Sami himself who only 15 years earlier had brought the first two Franca Manco restaurants to the table, namely Brixton and Chiswick.
He also owns The Pepper Tree, a hugely popular Thai Restaurant close to Clapham Common which was founded in 1994, and the Camden Bakery, which he took over in 2013 but which was established as The Little Baker in 1972.
Sami successfully piloted London pop-up, Cairo Kitchen, and is currently working with acclaimed Egyptian street food brand Zooba which has seven branches in Cairo and one in New York City. In addition, he continues to broaden his extensive residential and commercial property portfolio.