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October 5, 2012 7:36 pm
Naples is allegedly the home of the pizza. It’s there that they’re meant to have developed the beehive oven, enabling the rapid baking of dough. Like pasta, it became the original fast food – a cheap, wheat-based meal on to which could be put the lightest dusting of more expensive meat and vegetable ingredients.
Thirty years ago I innocently went to make a film about the pizzaioli of Naples. I fell into a hornet’s nest of controversy. They had hired a lawyer to draw up a solemn and binding definition of what could legitimately be put on a pizza. News had reached them of an American outrage, the “Hawaiian”, adorned with pineapple chunks. They sought to establish, for all time, that this was simply ultra vires.
Our task this week was to taste home-delivery pizzas in west London. Fearing legal action, even after all this time, I made sure we restricted ourselves to two authentic toppings: margherita and pepperoni. Our panel comprised the Gluttonous Pig (GP), the Epicure Publisher (EP), the Pie Snaffler (PS), the Discerning Litigator (DL) and the Digital Native (DN). One of the Pie Snaffler’s investment funds had held Domino’s Pizza, but no longer, so there was no need to activate Taste Test’s Register of Interests. Along with Domino’s, we intended to order from six other suppliers. But one had had its delivery bike stolen and another’s phone was cut off, arguably drawbacks for a pizza-to-home service, so we were down to five – a relief for our stomachs.
First I need to report on The Great Pizza Handicap: how long they said they’d take to arrive, how long it actually took, how far they had to travel and what temperature they were on the doorstep.
Pizza Metro (0.5 miles) quoted 30 minutes, arrived in 17 and the average temperature (taken with a digital thermometer) was 48.5C. Wood Oven Pizza (four miles) said it would take up to 40 minutes and managed 24, averaging 63C despite the greater distance. Firezza (0.7 miles) offered 30 to 40 minutes but whizzed over in 13, and managed 69.5C. Domino’s (one mile) quoted 30 minutes and delivered in 16, at a scorching 80.5C. And Papa John’s (0.9 miles) said 30 to 35 minutes, managed a slowish 22, but at a piping 78C. But while Pizza Metro appeared the most casual in its approach, the tasting produced a different result.
Our two most common criticisms were flaccid crusts and overblown toppings. We recognise the Brits probably like pizza-Welsh rarebit, but we wanted a more authentic Italian dusting than an all-too-frequent swamp of melted cheese. So Domino’s dough got this reaction: “stodgy, soft crust”(DL). And its much-vaunted stuffed crust contained, in reality, a strange, viscous material whose only discernible flavour upset one of us: “Ugh! Stale garlicsville” (GP). Papa John’s had another disappointing crust and its margherita was found to be “boring” (DN) and “a beer soaker” (DL). The fennel seed flavour of its pepperoni was praised, but the pizza’s appearance provoked thoughts of A Nightmare on Elm Street: “Freddie Krueger’s face!” (PS). Wood Oven Pizza once again had somewhat damp, cardboardy dough: “Too much cheese, too chewy” (EP). And the raw onion in its pepperoni meant “flavours which fight, rather than complement” (DN).
The runner-up was Firezza. Its margherita had the “most authentic dough” (GP) and its pepperoni was “agreeably greasy with best sausage” (PS). And our winner was that tepid pizza, Pizza Metro. The panel didn’t care so much about the temperature once they’d seen and eaten it. The two flavours come at either end of a single square pizza. The crust was crisp and the tomato was “authentically dusted” (GP). The pepperoni had the delicious addition of gorgonzola, which we all loved: “Pleasantly old socks” (DL).
1. Pizza Metro
Margherita £8.95, Salame e Gorgonzola £10.95, 020 7228 3812 (Battersea), 020 7727 8877 (Notting Hill), www.pizzametropizza.com
Margherita (12in) £9.90, Piccante (12in) £13.90, 10 locations across London, www.firezza.com
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