Despite usually opting for pizzas with the thinnest crust possible, I do love a real, rustic and doughy Neapolitan style pizza, the way pizza should be. I had heard a great deal of buzz about London’s Pizza Pilgrims and, on my recent UK trip, insisted on trying it.
Pizza Pilgrims came about when brothers James and Thom Eliot got bored of having what they called ‘proper jobs.’ They decided to buy a three-wheeled Piaggio Ape van and drove 4500km (at a maximum speed of 35mph) around Italy and back to London over six weeks to learn all about the art of pizza making. Back in London they set up their three-wheeler in Berwick Street Market as a fully functioning pizza van and started attracting pizza lovers from far and wide, all keen to get a taste of their Neapolitan style pizzas.
The van still exists and can even be rented to serve pizza at events, but the Eliot brothers have expanded just a little bit, with two actual pizzerias.
The Dean Street pizzeria looks like just a takeaway joint from outside, with a huge hand-built pizza oven and a few stools dotted around. Take the steps down to the basement and it does actually feel like you’re stepping into a rustic pizzeria in Naples. Tables are cramped together, decked out in green and white checked tablecloths, whilst retro Italian film posters line the walls. To top it off and really make you feel like you’re in Southern Italy, it is absolutely roasting. Despite the chilly early September air (seriously, England, what happened to summer?), we were all sweating like pigs down there.
Neapolitan style pizza is one of those things that people either love or hate. Personally, as I’ve mentioned, I love it, but not everyone appreciates its slightly charred flavour (many in fact mistake it for burnt) and slightly soggy middle. The pizza at Pizza Pilgrims, I thought, was fantastically authentic. The base was lovely and doughy, with a slightly chewy crust and flavoursome toppings. There were times where the toppings were rather sparsely distributed, leaving some people with a somewhat naked slice, but the quality of the dough itself and the chilli oil almost made up for it.
Between our table of five we found an ingenious method of sharing pizza: we each had a different pizza in front of us, cut it into six, ate one slice and then passed our plates clockwise, until we had each tried all five pizzas, and chose a bonus sixth slice to finish on. Pure genius.
In terms of flavours: the Margarita was near perfect (although this was one of the semi-naked ones I was referring to); the ‘nduja (with spicy Calabrian sausage) had a pleasant salty and fiery kick to it; the Aubergine Parmigiana was meaty without being meaty at all; the guest pizza, “The Mungo Jerry,” a white-based pizza topped with homemade pesto, cherry tomatoes and smoked mozzarella, had a satisfying comforting quality to it; whilst my absolute favourite was the Portobello mushroom and Truffle, another white-based pizza that was just packed full of flavour, despite also being a little bit naked in parts.
Just in case we hadn’t eaten enough bread, we simply couldn’t leave without first trying the Nutella and salted ricotta pizza ring. I challenge you to see that on a menu and not need it in your mouth. The ricotta, blending beautifully with the molten Nutella, somehow made the whole thing nowhere near as heavy as it could have been and there were smiles all around the table.
Including a couple of rounds of Aperol Spritz and/or Sgroppinos, we each paid a little over £20 (around HKD250), which I thought was excellent value for money. Aside from being so hot I might as well have been inside a pizza oven, I could have hung out for hours at Pizza Pilgrims, drinking Sohocello (their version of limoncello) and nibbling on authentically Neapolitan pizzas. Our equivalent in Hong Kong is obviously Motorino, although its backstory isn’t nearly as cool.
11 Dean Street
London W1D 3RP
Tel: +44 (0) 207 287 8964
Note: only two bookings per night for groups of 8 or more, otherwise walk-in only and they won’t seat you until your whole group is there.
Another location on Kingly Street – see website for details.