Luigi Savarino has only one problem at his immensely popular pizzeria: where to fit everyone. Kate Burbidge and photographer Charles Fox search out the secrets of his success.
Luigi Savarino believes in bringing lesser known Italian dishes to the pizza lovers of Phnom Penh. In fact, his latest venture — Piccola Italia — was born out of a 2012 trip where he spent months travelling around Italy with his wife, sampling regional dishes along the way.
Returning to Cambodia full of ideas and inspiration, he found the perfect spot to recreate Italian eateries, “where the people live on the street, where everybody passes by and looks in.”
The result is a restaurant very much like the traditional trattorias that define eating out in his beloved home region, Sicily. They are intimate, family-run places that people come back to.
Savarino’s basic premise is simple: “Do what you know, do it well, listen to your customers.” As a result, the restaurant offers three things: Sicilian antipasti, pizza and tiramisu.
The delicatessen counter is a showcase for antipasti. All are homemade or imported from Italy, with quality and freshness paramount to each. Just gazing into the cooler cabinet is enough to set the mouth watering.
Offerings include eggplant salad, mixed seafood and stuffed risotto balls. There are salamis from Calabria and Milan, and Provolone cheese. Homemade items include bread, spicy Salciccia sausage, mascarpone and pesto alla Siciliano containing almonds rather than pine nuts, and “much more cheese than the Genovese.”
The main attraction is the pizza (from $4.50 to $9). They come in one size and with a thin crust, but don’t expect to find any pineapple. The toppings aren’t likely to be found anywhere else in the city, as they were born from Savarino’s Italian tour.
The Montanara — influenced by a traditional dish from the mountains on the Franco-Italian border — puts finely diced potato alongside white mozzarella and pancetta. Pizza al Pesche is based on a fish speciality from Messina, while the Fuocco Del’Etna evokes Southern heat and colour with peperoni and red pepper. There is no wood-fired oven due to space limitations, so Savarino has adjusted the consistency of the dough accordingly. The result is crisp perfection — and arguably the best pizzas in Phnom Penh.
Initially Savarino didn’t intend to offer dessert but, bowing to customer demand, one has been introduced. It is a light, fresh tiramisu ($4), made with homemade mascarpone, coffee liqueur and imported biscotti.
If things continue to go well, Savarino plans to open one or two more outlets around town based on the same model. It seems that Piccola Italia won’t stay small for very long.