Pizza East has been on my eaterie radar for quite some time now, so when my mum came down to visit last week, I thought I would make plans and actually book somewhere in the neighbourhood, rather than trawling round Soho in the hope of finding somewhere we both liked. Ok, my neighbourhood is actually Hackney Central, but the Kingland Road stretch just seems like a hop and a skip away when there’s good food to be had.
We tried to book a table for three and each time I rang, they only had availability for ‘early bird suppers’ at 6.30pm. However, it was suggested that we’d have more luck if we turn up and wait for a table at the time we wanted to eat. I guess this is quite a democratic system, as it stops the restaurant being jammed up with bookings for weeks ahead and prevents such pretentions as ‘waiting lists’.
We were told we would have to wait an hour for a table but they would try to get us seated earlier, although it did end up this long, so we had a bottle of Peroni at the bar. The bar had a great atmosphere and was a veritable ‘who’s who’ of Shoreditch fashion and media types, with Brix Smith-Start buzzing around, waiting for her table. Despite trying to appear patient and happily lost in conversation, everyone looked so restless that they might have grabbed one of the Italian hams hanging from the ceiling and gnawed away on it there and then.
So, why is everyone falling over each other to dine at Pizza East when there are plenty of pizza joints in the east end? Well, it’s the latest venture of Soho House group founder Nick Jones, also the owner of Shoreditch House, directly above Pizza East in the Tea Building (on the corner of Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green Road.
The pizzas are apparently inspired by the wood-fired sourdough those at LA’s Pizzeria Mozza, with a mix of classic Italian combinations and house speciality pizzas like veal meatballs with sage, lemon, parsley and cream and another with duck sausage, artichoke, parmesan and boschetto al tartufo.
We started with two orders of garlic bread to share, which came on rustic wooden chopping boards. Each potion consisted of two massive hunks of ciabatta oozing delicious garlic butter with fresh parsley, so luckily we didn’t go for one each.
Our waiter was a chatty Italian guy with very cool Ray-Ban glasses, who recommended his personal favourites and came over almost every time he passed to see if we needed anything.
Next up was the much-anticipated pizza, although the garlic bread and Peroni had mellowed my growling stomach enough not to wolf it down without wild abandon.
I ordered the speck with rocket, my mum went for the portobello mushroom, shallot, parsley and egg, and Steven chose the hottest pizza on the menu so he didn’t have to share (sorry, maybe it’s just a coincidence), which was salami, red onion and red chilli flakes.
The sourdough base was unlike any I’ve ever tried before and had a crisp, bubbly crust and soft but not too flimsy centre. There was a generous covering of smooth tomato sauce made in-house and the most flavoursome mozzarella clustered near the middle. The speck tasted well-matured and the rocket was super fresh and robust – all in all, everything I could have hoped for in a pizza and more.
There was a bit of cross-table swappage and I can report that the salami had a much more meaty texture and flavour than the generic, uniformly thin and greasy versions and the portobello mushrooms had a slightly nutty, garlic taste.
Pizza East also claim to source seasonal and local produce, although I’m sure most of the pizza ingredients are imported from Italy, as they taste so authentic. The guy next to us ordered the most tender and slow-cooked beef cheek, so perhaps the meat and staple ingredients are from home turf.
We were left feeling pretty full after the starter and main meal (rarely would I go for double bread action in one sitting), but it would have been a shame not to try the desserts, so we ordered the salted chocolate caramel tart on the recommendation of our ‘new best friend’ waiter. It only seems logical that when sharing between three, you go for the richest, most decadent dessert to make up for all that spoon clashing and thimble-sized portions.
The waiter told us we would get a surprise and in fact there were two – our tart was covered in snowflakes of rock salt and we were given a taster of delightful Moscato dessert wine, that was made in the village next to where he was from.
The salt really complimented the velvety, sweet caramel and dark chocolate and the pastry was exceptional, with a sandy texture that is really hard to achieve. With the flaked almonds and mascarpone/soured cream, the dessert took on the taste of a really posh dime bar – absolutely delicious!
I expected that due to Pizza East’s location and lineage that it may be somewhat standoffish and have the tense atmosphere of hipsters experiencing carb-guilt (a neurosis I also suffer from at certain strong-willed times of the year). However, the staff were so welcoming and open and there was a great buzz of everyone getting stuck in Italian-style and chatting freely. There are also small touches from Shoreditch House such as Cowshed handsoap and lotion in the bathrooms that remind you that it’s not just your regular pizzeria.
I also kind of like the communal dining aspect, as you never know who you could be sat next to, and as I usually end up next to the village nut-job, they’re often keep you entertained. It did feel like I was sitting on a wooden toadstool though, so a proper bench or comfy seat wouldn’t go amiss.
I’m looking forward to Pizza East’s take-out service that’s due to launch in December and I like the idea of having a deli counter where you can buy store cupboard items like oil and sauces, as well as branded products from the restaurant. I’m also tempted by the charcuterie and cheese boards on offer at the centre bar – great for avoiding the pizza-induced mid-afternoon slump and the tedious queuing.
Not only is Pizza East the most exciting new restaurant in the Shoreditch area, but it has the friendly feel of a neighbourhood restaurant that could quite easily become my ‘local’ for years to come, and that’s not a decision I take lightly!
Pizza East, 56 Shoreditch High Street, London, E1 6JJ