Invariably when an Italian restaurant strays from natural territory things can begin to go a little awry. Brazilians have embraced the pizza like a long lost son, but by giving it their own twist the concept of authenticity was left on the boat from Sicily; flavourless cheese levels upped, rich, Italian tomato levels way down, and all followed with outrageous toppings covering everything from shrimp (on a pizza?!) to M&Ms.
Eccellenza looks the part, and in name certainly sounds it. As part of Botafogo’s gastronomic quarter since 2006 it arrived just as this neck of the woods was taking off as a treasure trove amongst local gourmands. The service is also a rare delight, attentive, helpful and friendly, the recommendations weren’t so forthcoming but the enthusiasm at least was.
When the menu looks like this, however, a little pointing in the right direction wouldn’t go amiss. Adventurous pizza combinations leave me baffled, and ingredients like pear, gorgonzola, thyme honey and brie frankly have no place on any pizza, let alone all on the same one.
As ever, then, the best were also the simplest. The margherita with mushroom (R$28.50) was fresh, light and delicious. Glistening cherry tomatoes and bright green basil lit up the piles of juicy sliced mushrooms, the thin base and puffy crust everything that a pizza should be. Alongside that, the Pão de Casa (R$18.90) was also a revelation, the crispy edged doughy lump of pepproni-stuffed bread got a table's worth of appetites perfectly revved up along with a bottle of the Punto Final Etiqueta Preta (R$62.80) red.
Back to the pizza, though, and the menu, for unadventurous souls like myself, is usefully divided into ‘Traditional’ and ‘Special’. That the Gamberi (R$49.90), with its flambéed shrimp and creamy catupiry cheese is among the former tells its own story. As indeed does the Cipolla (R$48.90). To a fan of the onion topping it sounded interesting, but the arrival of a mountain of deep-fried onion shavings nestled atop the base made it a two slice maximum. Tellingly, nobody else was even intrigued enough to try a bite.
Fortunately that was just half, a whole one would have been frankly terrifying. The Greca (R$51.50) housed nicely al-dente broccoli, fresh buffalo mozzarella, olives, mint and basil and cut through the Cipolla’s sweetness beautifully. Barbara (R$51.50) was a complicated combination of shiitake and Paris mushroom, artisanal sausage mince and a dash of chilli that worked well in small doses, and the Indiavolati’s (R$51.50) pepperoni was slightly smothered by onion but once again its simplicity won the day.
Finally the Attrativa should have been at least good-looking, but the Emmenthal, ham, artichoke and caqui fruit covering was flat and uninspiring. At least a comprehensive, 50-plus selection should mean that there is something for everyone, but while there is something intriguing about a brie-and-four-jam pizza, it can't get too many orders.