Sunday, 18 October 2009
Pizza East opened on Friday in the Tea Building on the corner of Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green Road. It's a huge industrial space of steel, exposed concrete and naked beams and pipes, softened by elaborate light fittings and friendly service.
Its speciality is thin, 10 inch base pizzas with toppings ranging from the rustic to the elaborate. I went for the veal meatballs, sage, cream and lemon pizza (appealing to my memories of gourmet travels in Piedmont) while The Peanut Gallery branched out with the prawn, tomato, garlic, spring onion, marjoram and chilli option recommended by our waiter.
Both pizzas looked like they had been slapped around the head a little, as all good pizzas should. The ingredients were somewhat sparse, but the flavours (particularly of the veal pizza) packed enough punch while retaining subtlety in all the right places (lemon on a pizza is surely a potential minefield for disaster, but our Pizza East bakers managed to dodge the traps). The key to good pizza is all in the base - limp, lethargic, half-hearted excuses for a pizza have no place in this world. The thin base here was crisp and strong, although the prawn pizza was slightly burnt around the edges.
With our pizzas, we shared a salad of wild rocket, shaved fennel, almonds, parmesan, lemon and extra virgin olive oil - it looked a little dry but wasn't dry on tasting even if it could have done with a little more parmesan.
Other dishes on offer include an antipasti selection (especially tempting given the raunchy hams hanging over the bar, beckoning one's taste buds), tapas style starters (eg. wood roasted mussels, fennel, garlic aioli) and large mains cooked in the wood oven (eg. porchetta, cannellini beans, kale, fennel apple sauce).
For dessert, we couldn't go past the hot cinnamon sugar doughnuts and Valrhona chocolate - although I'm now kicking myself we didn't try the salted chocolate caramel tart as well (what were we thinking?). The doughnuts were as delicious as they sound. The chocolate was spot on - unlike the sickly versions often on offer at your average churros joint. The doughnuts were light and fluffy which The Peanut Gallery (a doughnut connoisseur from way back) thought ideal, although I would have liked a little extra gooeyness.
We had prime position seats at the bar facing the kitchen and pizza ovens. The live pizza making show was a source for ample entertainment, particularly with a newly assembled cast on display which had only been tested on the neighbours for a few days prior to opening. There was a little bumping and thumping, and the odd debate regarding such important lessons as the precise placement of anchovy, but generally the routine was already well coordinated and these things added positively to the real life character of the experience.
We arrived quite early at 7pm, having just been to the cinemas down the road ("(500) Days of Summer" is hilarious, by the way). On arrival, there was some twiddling of the thumbs among the cooks, so it was a little discomforting to have the entire line up staring blankly at us while we perused the menu. We felt compelled to give them all a nod and "hello". However, soon things livened up and it was all action stations so, fortunately, we did not feel the need to seek their input on all our conversations for the evening.
The bill came to £68 with a half carafe of wine, dessert moscato and service. A little steep for pizza but we're happy to pay slightly over the odds for the quality and a fun night, as well as a few extras.
Apparently there will be a DJ from Thursdays to Saturdays (which raises alarm bells about the way this place might be heading), and take away will be on offer from December (you lucky Shoreditchians, you).
Pizza East is still teething, but we'll certainly pay it another visit - if it doesn't become too cool for school in the meantime.
Pizza East, Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JJ