Saturday, 10 August 2013

Pizza Pilgrims: almost perfect

Best Pizza in Soho. Go now, beat the queues

I knew from the moment I got to Dean Street something was wrong. But I couldn't put my finger on it. As I approached Pizza Pilgrims my sense of unease grew. I stopped and stared at the place - somewhere I had thought about so much during the day, longing for the clock to strike six while time crawled along. The place looked right - all shiny, green and new, with big windows that let you see their roaring pizza oven.

That's when it hit me. I could see in. Where was the queue? The braying mob of Instagrammers, bloggers and wannabe media types? I was here, where were my brethren? This is PIZZA PILGRIMS for god's sake. Heroes of the street food scene. With their first pizzeria. On DEAN STREET.

I probably shouldn't have shouted that in the middle of Dean Street, but I was disorientated. Luckily not so much I couldn't find the door.

I’ve always wanted to try their van, but I work in the wrong part of town. Whitecross does many wonderful foods, but Italian is not among them. So at 6.30 we arrived at their pokey little restaurant on Dean Street – right opposite the behemoth of Pizza Express.

We weren't exactly welcomed – there’s no queue so we were ushered inside and asked to sit opposite a sweltering wood-fired oven. There we sat awkwardly on stools and waited. It was a Hello! Magazine short of a GP’s waiting room. Some of us were offered drinks, others nothing.

But within five minutes we were told to go downstairs by a nurse. I mean waiter. So we stepped into the cool, tiled cellar. It’s twice the size you’d expect, somewhere between a wine cave and a new gastro pub loo. I was brought a pint of the only beer available (sadly just Moretti) and left to peruse the menu, printed on the ubiquitous landscape brown recycled paper. There’s quite a selection of pizzas. Nothing as complicated as the Crate Brewery menu, but equally as tempting. Short of listing everything (click here for the menu) they had a something for everyone (Margheritas, nduja, salami, truffle), as well as something for no one (here’s looking at you marinara). They also had what turned out to be the best damned panzanella I’ve ever tasted, the secret being seriously thick dough, so that the moisture from the tomato doesn't cause the bread to fall apart but become clumpy like over-cooked gnocchi. Now THAT’S a texture you want in a bread salad.

The panzanella, which we had assumed was a starter, arrived at the same time as the pizza. This was made doubly bonkers because Pizza Pilgrim suffers from small-table syndrome, an affliction that affects 9 in every 10 Soho restaurants. There was simply not enough room for two pizzas, a salad, four glasses and the condiments. Because the panzanella couldn't go cold, we ended up eating it after the pizzas. In such a carb fest though, it mattered less.

Best pizzas in Soho

My friend and I went for the artichoke, ricotta and smoked garlic oil and the truffle and portobello pizzas, splitting them between us. In their determinedly authentic style, the dough was soft so you could roll and fold and stuff it in your mouth with glee, and the toppings were delicious. I'm not really a fan of pizza bianco, because it often loses the sweetness a pizza needs, but the truffle really sang through on the mushroom pizza. Sadly, the other was less successful. The artichokes were a little dry, and probably could have done with being chopped a little smaller so they weren't like boulders on a flat landscape, and there wasn't a hint of smoke to the garlic oil. Smoke was, in fact, lacking in its entirety due to the fact that their pizza ovens are fuelled by gas. I'd rather see the traditional methods, in keeping with the rest of the restaurant. Smoke also does wonderful things to cheese and bread - they're missing a trick.

I've heard it said that bad pizza is still pizza (I assume it wasn't a marketing slogan). Anyone who's picked up a Tesco value pizza can testify that's not true. But it's true that at its worst, Pizza Pilgrims do the best pizzas in London. Not the best bases (that goes to Chris Bianco at Union Jacks), not the cheapest (that's Franco Manca) and not in the best place (that's Crate), but if you want a purist's pizza, there's no where else you can go.

So where people are going I don't know. Take advantage of the lack of queues, it probably won't last.

Pizza Pilgrims on Urbanspoon   Square Meal

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