A gaping hole in London’s restaurant scene has always been its pizza. In a city that’s true culinary power is being able to boast a world-class representative for almost any cuisine you care to throw at it, pizza is left trailing. Probably a good thing when it comes to my health. For if there ever did materialise a truly formidable pizzeria in the capital, I’d almost certainly be there gorging my day’s allotment of calories in a single meal at least a couple of times a week, and slowly mutate into some obese blob.
Until something comes along to rival the insanely good, brick-oven ‘pies’ of New York – what I consider to be the world beater – I lower my expectations to a more realistic level to avoid disappointment. A myriad of B-level establishments are dotted around the city and today I’m trying out Pizza East which discreetly sits on the corner where Shoreditch High St. meets Bethnal Green Rd. This is the original, with a subsequent branch in Portabello, and another on the horizon for Kentish Town this August.
Walking the street, you could almost miss it, for the exterior gives off the demeanour of an abandoned warehouse. Go inside, and you are exposed to one of the more expansive dining areas you’ll find in any London restaurant. It’s all very raw; very Shoreditch: exposed brick walls; visibly worn concrete pillars and wooden floor-boards carve an intentionally industrial feel – which is what seems to pass for cutting-edge these days. Steel refectory tables litter the space along with wooden canteen tables for larger groups. Below, lies a subterranean club kind of thing, called Concrete, which is hirable during weekend evenings; though I doubt anyone actually cares. Wouldn’t you just go somewhere else?
Calamari, caper aioli £7.50
Starters are more elaborate than you’d think, ranging from seabass carpaccio to veal bone marrow to fried chicken livers. A surprisingly good calamari is perfectly cooked, with a satisfying bite. A hint of chili powder, drizzled over the batter gives it that little something extra. The caper aioli is a perfect dunking companion, and on its own is finger-licking good.
Veal meatballs, prosciutto, cream £12
All the Pizzas are ten-inchers, with toppings like Soppressata salami and San Daniele ham, that shoot for a distinctly gourmet feel,. I go for the one with veal meatballs, whose base is so thin and light, it almost levitates. The sauceless pizza delivers moisture as a cream topping, which luxuriates in each mouthful of the juicey veal clumps. Scatterings of sage balance the creaminess with a touch of bitter herbiness. The prosciutto is so salty and fatty that it induces a sensation I could only equate to a severely tannic wine (in a good way). It gets your attention. The base graduates out into a crispy blistering crust of the kind that is worth bothering with; which is more than most London pizzas can say for themselves.
Hot cinnamon sugar doughnuts, Amedei chocolate £6
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, is a dessert – in a casual Shoreditch pizzeria – that includes a dipping-pot of the revered Amedei chocolate from Portugal. This is the kind of thing you don’t often find outside the likes of Michelin starred big-shots such as Kai Mayfair and Locanda Locatelli. Amongst their range, is the world’s most expensive pound-for-pound chocolate. So to see sexy, rich Amedei utilised here alongside some fluffy, sugary doughnuts is an unexpected, though welcome bonus.
I can’t say anything negative about my meal. The service is impeccably friendly and efficient. Starters and desserts are way more than mere afterthoughts that pad-out the menu. In fact they are pretty damn good. I enjoyed the pizza, but at the same time, the Earth didn’t move. So ultimately, Pizza East may not be the equaliser that brings us up into the realm of world-class pizzas, but it’s still a worthy existence and easily in the upper bracket of what you can get in London today.
food : 6.5/10
service : 8/10
ambience : 7.5/10
value : 8/10
56 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JJ
020 7729 1888