I’ve been following the progress of brothers Thom and James Elliot more readily known to me as The Pizza Pilgrims since I first learnt of their journey on, where else but, Twitter. I can’t remember when exactly I first learnt of their existance, but as a pizza fanatic I’ve been watching avidly as they’ve eaten their way around London and Italy, culminating in a high (or low) point where 28 pizzas were consumed in the space of just 5 days, or was it 4, still an epic echievement either way and a job well done in the name of research. The journey was made in a three wheeled, Robin Reliantesque van, the sort of vehicle I used to point at as a child and explain worriedly to my Dad that it looked unsafe. Well, the pair have now installed a bespoke pizza oven, reaching temperatures of 500 degrees into the back, and joined by pilgrim number three, intend to use it to sell Neopolitan style pizzas in Soho.
I was invited along to a preview this week, to taste their creations and offer some feedback on their ingredients and obviously the end product; their main quandry seemed mainly to be cheese related in as whether to use British cheese or something wholy more traditional. To start we were brought out a tray on which were artfully arranged each of the pizza components; a deconstruction if you will. There was a traditional Italian mozzarella and the British Laverstock Park buffalo version, of which I loved both but erred possibly towards the slightly firmer British one. We also try a salty ricotta, again from Laverstock Park, a fior de Latte firm cows milk mozzarella, and a lovely smoked scamorza. Dough is made from the gluton rich speciality ’00′ Caputo flour which provides it’s beautiful elasticity, enabling it to be stretched as thinly as is needed, this was demonstrated here with a dough ball; both cooked and raw. A little smear of spicy Nduja and a shot of the simply sweet tomato sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes and little else complete the plate. Convinced by the pedigree of their raw ingredients I find myself dying to try the finished product!
I don’t have to wait long before pizzas start emerging and once they start, there’s no stopping them; variations on the classic margherita come thick and fast. These are classic Neopolitan style pizzas, so cooked for just one minute at great heat to produce a crust with scorched and puffed up cornichon and super thin middle that’s just screaming out to be folded and crammed quickly into your mouth. Straight out of that oven, they’re scorching; molten cheese and vesuvius sauce, I practically burn everything in sight as I try and get slices from A to B as fast as humanly possible. What’s interesting is how the cheese transforms when cooked; the British mozzarella although one of my favourites raw, just doesn’t work so well on the pizza, remaining only half melted in lumps, it’s the, innocuous on the plate, Fior de Latte that transforms the pizza into a work of delicious art, melting beautifully to create molten lacework across that irresistibly aromatic dough. We’re treated also to a variation that includes that spicy nduja, and a couple of stromboli with different fillings. A marinara turns up, stunning in it’s simplicity; just fragrant tomato sauce, garlic and basil; a genius smearing to showcase gorgeously chewy dough. Finally, when I think I can’t possibly consume another carb this week, let alone evening, out comes dessert. Yup, another pizza. This time a sort of calzone with dastardly hot filling of ricotta and nutella; sweet chocolate and hazelnut spread contrasting brilliantly with the salty dough.
All you really need to know however is that this pizza is good, really good and although not perfect (cornichons could be more perfectly charred, the middle could be even thinner and more elastic) it’s still better than anything else you’ll find in central London and given time and practice that’s only going to get better. These boys have done their research and had stints in a number of pizzerias resulting in maybe not quite Santa Maria Pizzeria in Ealing standards, my bench mark for pizza since my visit just before Christmas (another post I need to write!), but they’re certainly getting there.
I love the fact that the people behind this are just really down to earth guys with a great sense of fun and adventure. Their plan is to sell just a couple of really good pizzas, and possibly a sweet variation too, for around £5, these will be served street food style folded for ease of eating on the hoof.
And if you think making pizza’s easy, think again. I make it regularly at home, but it’s quite another matter when you’re using a blazing hot oven atop a set of wheels. I was lucky enough to have a go at the end of the evening and learnt a few things that hadn’t really occured to me; firstly the sauce is always uncooked, and secondly most places will always sprinkle a layer of parmesan before adding any toppings for an additional umami hit. My attempt, in my interminable style, was over loaded with toppings making it hard to manoeuvre and sadly tore in the middle. But in the process of completely demolishing the poor oven I still managed to create something that despite looking a bit of a disaster, tasted damn fine, proving that the ingredients are a match even for me.
Catch the Pizza Pilgrims any day now on Berwick Street, Soho.Tweet