I tried to make pizza dough once. My housemates found me pressed up against the kitchen counter with my arms configured as a wide circular wall – the only thing stopping a tsunami of sticky, floury, watery gloop covering the immediate area.
It’s perhaps because of this trauma that I admire the accomplishment of a good pizza. That and places like Pizza East, that is.
After finding myself and fragrant girlfriend in Portobello Road ahead of a friend’s birthday, Foursquare was suggesting a typically lacklustre selection of chip shops and Starbuckses.
But then, out of the shadows, emerged one last tasty hope. The newest (and most geographically poorly named) branch of Pizza East. Open for 3 weeks or so at the time of writing, this transplant of the formula created in Shoreditch is a bit like a more interesting Pizza Express.
Read on for highlights and another ‘pizza’ the puzzle (mamma mia.)
The venue itself feels a little like it’s been tacked together from whatever was at hand – a roof covered in tiles of I-don’t-know-what is typical of the almost “favela chic” feel to the place.
We started with the Aubergine fritti (£5) – in theory a nice crunchy intro to the meal, in practice a bit of an over-greasy disappointment. Luckily, a pitcher of Peroni helped wash them down – if you ask me, a much better accompaniment to pizza on a hot day than wine.
Throughout, service was enthusiastic and responsive. There were plenty of faces on the floor and any one of them seemed happy to be bothered with our requests. However, the pizza did take longer to arrive than one might hope for such a notoriously quick to create dish. Perhaps we were stuck behind a party.
For me, the Portobello Mushroom pizza (£10), with a treat of Taleggio cheese and oregano. Smelling fantastic as it arrived, the taste combination was just unusual enough to be exciting without overcomplicating the mix.
First impressions were that these pizzas are all about the toppings – strong clear flavours complemented by a simple crust. But the Taleggio was the unsung hero here for me, a beautiful alternative to mozzarella in this role.
Fragrant girlfriend plumped for corgette flower, ricotta and marjoram (£9) - a deeply subtle mixture which was more after taste than anything else and a bit lacking in texture for me. It wasn’t bad but it would have been hard to appreciate just how mild the flavour is there.
As we finished up, around 19:30 on a Saturday, queues were forming and disappointed faces were starting to appear. I guess this won’t be as much of a problem as in Soho but worth bearing in mind.
Having visited Santa Maria in Ealing and Franco Manca in Brixton, I’d say this experience overall was much more “corporate” than either of those – definitely toward the pizza express model but with more quality, ambition and adventure. However, it thankfully also steered clear of the mess of “innovative” offerings you find at Fire and Stone.
If I had to have a pizza tomorrow from any UK place, it’d probably still be Santa Maria in Ealing. But Pizza East isn’t far off and between this venue and the Shoreditch HQ, it’s a more realistic regular option.