At London’s Pizza East, love is in the air pockets

pizza east bubbleWho knows why an April breeze never remains?
Why stars in the trees hide when it rains?
Love comes along, casting a spell
Will it sing you a song?
Will it say a farewell? Who can tell?

Could the great lyricist Johnny Mercer have had pizza in mind when he matched these lines about love’s uncertainties to a Hoagy Carmichael melody?  The fatalism in the song How Little We Know reflects my own doubts ever since I fell madly in love, almost nine hours ago, with the pizza at Pizza East, a two-day-old restaurant in the Tea Building (56 Shoreditch High Street, London – see map. Tel 020 7729 1888).

pizza east margheritaLunching in a near empty venue where the staff outnumbered the customers by a ratio of perhaps 15-to-1, my Margherita pizza (£6) was the best I’ve ever had in London. It was more distinctive, stylistically, than the pizzas at all but one of London’s more accomplished pizzerias, Story Deli. Rather than merely emulate the Neapolitans, Australian chef Bernie Plaisted has looked to pizzerias in Sydney and Los Angeles for some crisp thinking. His pizza is crisp to the core, unlike its soft-centered counterparts in Naples, yet extremely light, airy and delicately chewy. Evidence suggests that the charred, blistered and bubbly cornicione (puffy outer rim) was inspired by the sourdough crust at Pizzeria Mozza in LA. It compresses exquisitely to the chew. The English difference entails dusting the dough with fine Maldon sea salt. It the pizza too salty? Maybe. Would I like them to use less salt? No. The Maldon almost becomes a flavour as much as a seasoning. I love it.

The mozzarella is Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP – the best that GBP can buy. Pizza East drains the cheese, as it must, only not excessively so. The scattered patches of cheese do melt and ooze some as the pizza bakes in the wood-and-gas-fired oven, but the transformation from solid state towards a liquid one does not turn the whole disk into one milky mess. Devotees of Franco Manca pizzeria at Brixton Market take notice: the surface geology of a Margherita requires molten masses of mozzarella floating alongside fresh basil atop a shallow pool of sweet roma tomatoes over a lunar-like landing. If the cheese is dry, chewy, stringy, tough or otherwise detached from those other elements the ensemble suffers. (I appreciate that Franca Manca’s Giuseppe Mascoli can not afford to use such an expensive cheese given his incredibly low prices. But it would be nice to have the option to pay a couple of pounds more for something better.)

vongole pizza beforeMy second pizza at today’s lunch was an extraordinary vongole variation (£12) topped with clams, oregano, cherry tomatoes, garlic, red chili flakes, butter and, most controversially, grated pecorino. This violation of the no-cheese-with-seafood mandate was immediately overshadowed by the defiance of not so much a rule as an unspoken trust assuring all, regardless of age, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or economic standing, that every pizza topping be edible if not palatable. Pizza East baked the vongole pizza with the clams left in their shells and then served the it that way. I could understand their removing the clams from the shells after the pizza had been baked but couldn’t fathom their leaving this chore in my hands. vongole pizza closeupThis would only slow me down when speed was of the essence. From my experience eating clam pizzas at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Connecticut I’d learned that no pizza variety loses more of its appeal as it cools and dries. And that’s why leaving the clams in their shells is such a clever bit of total insanity. It keeps them warmer longer, in their broth. (Some entrepreneur, maybe a Dragons’ Den aspirant, should invent a pizza-sized clam shell to replace the thermo insulated pouches now used by pizzerias for home delivery.)

bryant ngchef bernie plaistedSo why am I concerned that Pizza Love will burst my bubble? First, hands-on consultant Bryant Ng, who was chef de cuisine at LA’s Mozza and has overseen the development of the Pizza East pizzas, leaves after dinner service on Monday – day 4. Plaisted, a capable and serious chef who cares about the quality and compatibility of his ingredients, may be able to manage for awhile without Ng at his side. But will his brigade of freshly trained pizzaiolos be able to maintain the high standards as word spreads and this ground-level warehouse fills up with Shoreditch trendhounds? pizza east tablepizza east wall signAnd can they avoid cornicione creep – the infringement of the bubbly crust towards the middle of the smallish pizzas?
These are open questions that even Nick Jones of the Soho House Group, the backer of this venture, may not be able answer. For now I must take comfort in Johnny Mercer’s wise words of resignation:

Maybe it’s just for a day
Love is as changeable as the weather
And after all, how little we know

About Daniel

Food critic and events leader Daniel Young is the "Young" behind young&foodish

Comments

  1. Gastro1 says:

    Dan

    Excellent piece comme toujours.

    So is this the best American Pizza in London at this juncture or the best Pizzaa bar none ?

  2. Dan says:

    Thanks, Dino. I would hesitate to identify this pizza as American, first, because the chef is Australian and was also influenced by Sydney pizzerias such as Hugo’s and, second, because exceptional spots like Pizzeria Mozza in LA are hardly representative of anything you would call an American style. I would instead say that this is at least momentarily the best crisp-crusted pizza in London. And if you prefer a crisp thin-crusted pizza to the softer, more pliable, Neapolitan portafoglia style, then it’s the best full stop.

  3. Ah my kingdom for a good pizza! This sounds like a mighty place Dan, am intrigued by the vongole pizza :)

    Perhaps given your suggestion “(Some entrepreneur, maybe a Dragons’ Den aspirant, should invent a pizza-sized clam shell to replace the thermo insulated pouches now used by pizzerias for home delivery.)” you should pitch this idea to Dragon’s Den?

  4. A diner says:

    I visited Pizza East on Sunday with 3 friends for lunch. We were very impressed with the décor of the building and the way that you have retained many of the original features of the building.

    We ordered our drinks which were a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. I was very disappointed to find that a very small cranberry juice cost £3. The orange juice was £2.50 which was more understandable as it appeared to be fresh, but the cost of the cranberry juice seemed excessive as it had come out of a carton and was full to the brim of ice, in fact the cost of the small cranberry juice which was not even in a half pint glass cost more than a half pint of beer.

    We then ordered our food which was a variety of pizza and two lasagne dishes. The lasagne was not to our satisfaction at all. The presentation of the lasagne was awful. It appeared as a dry lump on the plate, not even a salad garnish was included. The lasagne itself was very dry and tasted bland. There was a lack of tomato in the lasagne and it was difficult to eat because it was so dry. The waitress did not enquire during our meal if everything was ok, and it was difficult to get anyone’s attention. When a different waiter came to clear our plates and the lasagne was not finished I tried to explain how disappointed I was with my meal, but he was uninterested and walked off without saying anything.

    All in all the visit was a disappointing experience.

  5. adam chan says:

    I had a really unpleasant experience at Pizza East. One waiter there rudely explained to me that it was nobody’s fault that there was only black mud inside the clam in my fish stew, after I asked him about the chef’s opinion on my discovery. (There was no apology whatsoever, which really got on my nerves.)

    And as my friend was on the way back from the ladies’ room, she encountered that the very waiter was behind our back moaning about my complaint to other staff, calling me “unreasonable”. The manager was not of much help either. Nothing was done to resolve the problem. We were simply left extremely unsatisfied.

    I would not recommend it to anyone unless you expect everything could be dealt WITHOUT any assistance from the people who work there. Because it is surely rude and unprofessional.

  6. Karen says:

    Get a take away – a few times here and feel over priced -asked for spicy sausage pizza all spice not taste waitress not worried…..more about the place to be rather than quality of food – would I go there again … maybe but only if friend wanted their birthday do there and I had no choice – did try .. again!

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  1. [...] never been to personally), going as far as to flying some of Mozza’s pizza experts, like Bryant Ng, to consult on the development of Pizza East. So far, it has been a rousing success in terms of [...]

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