Like many small towns, Beckenham has become a veritable stagnant melting pot of generic chains, a large proportion being mass produced faux Italian with a ridiculous three (or is it four?), owned by the same group, in an effort presumable to cash in by targeting ever so slightly different demographics. It still manages to shock me slightly that nearly each and every one of these restaurants is rammed pretty much at any given time. Admittedly some are probably ok, I know plenty of people rate Nandos for example, I’ve never been so can’t comment, but there’s no excuse for the shocking looking excuses for meals I’ve seen congealing their way out of the ‘kitchens’ of Wetherspoon, or the huge and heavy frisbees from Zizzi’s, that taste like cardboard and sit in your stomach like a brick. Not to mention such atrocities as the ‘diet’ pizza at Pizza Express that merely takes all the fun out of your dinner by removing the best bit, the middle, and replacing it with salad. Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up. The perky putrid stench of Subway mingles with more pleasing wafts from the local Indian which is utter pot luck as the owners change hands so frequently, and the only reason we aren’t crawling with the proper giants of the ilk of Maccy D’s and Starbucks is our lack of loading space.
That’s not to say that we don’t have some gems; I’m told The Rascasse is very good although I’m put off somewhat by the number of orange braying clientele that spill out most evenings and get louder and more obnoxious in direct proportion to a simple hour multiplied by wine sum. We have a fabulous independent coffee shop, Fee and Brown, and there’s always the super popular institution that is Pierluigi’s for vast pesto-ey cuddles at the bottom of a bowl of pasta. I’m not going to lie, I’m partial to a kebab at one of our two shops more often than I’d care to admit, though as luck would have it, one is better for meat, the other for chips and sauce, this clearly matters less the more intoxicated you are, and I find they taste better with a bit of alcoholic lubrication…..
With pizza offerings in no less than six, and certainly more that I’ve over looked, locations in this small town, there’s still not one I would enter of my free will. Until now. When you live in the high street, wearing away the pavement slowly and methodically day in, day out, anything new stands out like a throbbing wound, inciting sheer scab picking curiosity. This tiny, new pizzeria, through whose window I could spy a brick pizza oven, planted a seed of hope in my belly and a stirred the beginnings of miniature whirlpool of excitement. I peered in twice daily, on my way up the small incline around the corner of the high street, towards the train station, and then again on my way home in the dark, trying surreptitiously to cast a glimpse behind a glass fronted menu plastered to the window.
By Saturday curiosity had the better of me and I decided I needed to know once and for all whether I really might have edible pizza on my doorstep, so with a sense of trepidation and foreboding I took my purse on the whole couple of minutes amble to Sapore Vero. I feared much, mostly that my hopes would be dashed, but also that this was game over for any feeble attempts at dieting; with potentially decent pizza on my doorstep I’d have no chance, and my wallet would clearly suffer in inverse proportion to my waist.
It’s all very nice when central London gets a sparkly new restaurant and everyone races to add their two cents on whether it’s any good or not, but at the end of the day it’s merely a drop in the ocean of what our city already has to offer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m probably more excited than most about the Pizza Pilgrims opening their first restaurant, somewhere I can feasably get to in the evening, the second branch of Koya, anything by Lucky Chip, the latest coffee shop or the new cocktail bar being opened by Danny and Steve from Tina We SaluteYou. But it doesn’t *really* matter, regardless of hype and hipsters and banter and Twitter spats. No, when a new and independant restaurant opens in your own town, a new local, it’s a different matter entirely, I don’t care remotely if it ticks any style boxes or adheres to any current fads. All I care about is the food and the service, and when it’s this close, let’s face it, I’m likely going to be looking at the takeaway option anyway.
Without being too harsh, the decor is simplistic, if I were doing the marketing, it would be simple trattoria style, authentically rustic, but in reality it’s a pretty bog standard fit out, pared back and minimal, but just fine for a local. They boast 30 covers, I can count maybe 20 seats, it doesn’t really matter, it’s small and let’s just say I’m perfectly happy to be dashing back home with my toasty cardboard box. After a slightly awkward start with a waiter, the front of house, in fact owner as I find out later, takes over and smooths things over, all helped considerably with a complimentary glass of prosecco; how very civilised. All the staff are reassuringly Italian and confident in that unique way that their pizza is the very best in London, that I’m going to be blown away, of course I take this with a large and cynical dose of salt.
So what of the pizza? It certainly looks the part; beautifully risen and charred cornichon with scorched cheese bubbling over a colour pop of tomato sauce. I whisk our pizzas home with speed so as to appreciate them whilst still emanating warmth from their quick blast in the oven, so quick that I’m unable to unbox them with quite the same rapidity despite eager mouth. The boy has a salty combination of anchovies and capers that I don’t touch but produces more than happy noises. My Calabrese combines bountiful black olives with that currently rather overexposed, but otherwise delicious, foodstuff Calabrian N’duja. I know. Imagine? Such an exotic ingredient for little ol’ Beckenham. I know they have it at Zizzi’s, but I don’t consider that sort of depressing marketing, dreamt up in a soleless office somewhere, ticking off of trends, counts. I tear into the crust first. With just the right texture, chewy but light and crisp, I delight in it’s deep smoky flavour from a slow rise of the dough and short sharp blast in their wood fired oven. The base is not silky thin and elastic Neopolitan style as at Santa Maria, nor is it heavy and doughy like London’s Sartori, but somewhere in-between. My toppings are well balanced and I delight as I inhale more of that gorgeous blistered crust, this time as I reach the centre combined with a lethal lace of molten Italian fior di latte, vibrant tomato, smears of meaty spiciness and salty olives.
I’m so utterly shocked that it’s properly good that I make an executive decision to go back the next evening, I haven’t quite figured out how to broach this with the boy, when he suggests the very same. I keep quiet and let him sell me his story about being generous, that I probably want to try it again before I write about it, “in fact, don’t worry, I’ll pick it up for when you get back from work”. I end up going in the end, because I want to have a chat with the owner, and well, I could get used to this glass of prosecco while I’m being cooked for lark. This time the boy chooses a homogenised mess of four molten cheeses with porcini mushrooms and walnuts, it’s very good, I manage to steal a mere slither. I ask for half and half of two I’m undecided on; Mix Salumi is a triumph of sliced meats and mozzarella, the Biancaneve (mozzarella, fresh cherry tomato, basil and olive oil) I’ve failed to read the description of properly, having never been a fan of raw tomato, I far prefer them cooked as sauce, and so while this is lovely I should really have gone for a classic margherita. Hardly the greatest problem as I’m already planning weekly trips for when I’m feeling lazy, tired, just hungry. DEEP JOY.
Having been open only around seven weeks, the opposite of dog years in terms of London openings, I don’t think their Italian confidence translates as charm *quite* yet, but with their welcoming demeanor, give them time and I think they’ll settle in very nicely indeed and do rather well if they continue to churn out pizzas of this high standard, regardless of their suburban location. I for one fully intend to be their best customer!
As much as I love their enthusiasm (and pizza), despite their insistence that it’s ‘the best’, I’ve got a feeling their coffee may be just a touch too Italian for me….