Loosening her belt a notch or two, Ishita Wilkins sets out to grab as many different slices of Bristol’s pizza action as she can – all in one sitting…
Unless you are new to Bristol or have been cloistered away somewhere, you can’t fail to notice the flurry of independent pizza restaurants that have opened in Bristol over the last eighteen months or so. Pizza, it is safe to say, is having a moment.
Modern day pizza has Italy to thank, arriving there via the Greek port colony of Naples; it was originally food for sailors, dockers and the poor. Sold from kitchen windows or street-side stalls, tomatoes from the New World, thought to be poisonous and inedible, were added out of necessity during lean times. Sliced and served with olive oil, herbs and often a dried buffalo milk cheese; it staved off hunger. With variations across North Africa, the Mediterranean and into the Middle East, pizza lends itself to experimentation (although, for me, pineapple is pushing it…).
With all these new openings, how do you decide on where to go, or rather, where to begin? We decided there was only one thing for it: to smash our piggy banks, extract our food funds and set out on a pizza crawl.
First stop, Pizza Workshop on North Street, Southville
Long communal tables, natural wood, bright orange detail and an open kitchen; the pizza here was the closest to a traditional Napolitana. The sourdough bases – whose dough are fermented over 30 hours – were thin and beautifully crisp, with the fabled San Marzano tomatoes used for the homemade sauce. On the menu, alongside four classic pizzas, there were four with seasonal toppings. (For those who are keen, these guys also run pizza-making workshops here, where you can learn the secrets of the pizzaiola.)
We tried: Number 2 (no sniggering): tomato, Fior di Latte, garlic, anchovies, capers and oregano. Classy.
Next up, Bertha’s Sourdough Pizza on Gaol Ferry Steps, Whapping Wharf
A recent opening and a departure from the iconic sunflower-yellow Land Rover; the new home for Bertha’s is a bright and airy conversion of what used to be the stables for the Old City Gaol on Spike Island. Slowly fermented sourdough bases with a tomato sauce made from Isle of Wight tomatoes are wood-fired in a custom-built brick oven, made in Napoli. Soft, charred and crisp at the edges, the pizzas have modern twists: think hot honey over pepperoni, and lacto-fermented peppers with anchovy, for example.
We tried: the Margherita and the special, Burrata – roasted mushrooms, Stracciatella (a cream-infused buffalo milk cheese), garlic oil and herbs. One of the favourites of the evening.
Third stop, Pi Shop on Lower Guinea Street
Housed in the basement of the exclusive re-development of Bristol General Hospital, Pi Shop is run by the team behind Michelin-starred Casamia. A brilliant white space with blonde wood and opulent copper detail, it is not at all stuffy or snooty. Again wood-fired and featuring a sourdough base, the pizzas were thicker and more flat-bread-like than the others. Alongside affordable classics such as the Margherita and JR, named after Jon-Ray Sanchez-Inglesius, there are unusual topping combinations such as slow cooked lamb, pickled cucumber, mint and yoghurt; and luxe ingredients like wagyu and grated fresh black truffle.
We tried: the Margherita and the Carbonara – coppa, 36-month-aged parmesan, egg yolk and additional fresh black truffle. These pizzas were saucy (steady, I mean in consistency), and deluxe.
Onwards to Pizzarova at Wapping Wharf
Housed in a converted shipping container in the newly developed Whapping Wharf, this place is takeaway only. In dry weather, there are tables and chairs that you can sit and eat at but if you’re after a restaurant experience, you’re best off heading to their branch on Gloucester Road. So, to the pizzas (yep, you guessed it, wood-fired and sourdough): these are perfect for those who are particular about their toppings, thanks to the ‘create your own’ option. If you’re being indecisive however, the guys here will have plenty of suggestions for you.
We tried: the Margherita. Having arriving a few minutes before closing when the kitchen was winding down, I suspect we didn’t get a representative example of their pizza; the base was on the brittle side rather than crisp, and while they were generous with the cheese, it was a bit firm for us, as oppposed to molten. Definitely one to revisit…
Finally, Flour & Ash on Cheltenham Road
Zinc topped, pared back and utilitarian, Flour & Ash has a cosy and friendly vibe. An open kitchen houses a wood oven, custom built in Gloucestershire, and a small kitchen space means that everything on the menu is either cooked in said oven or dipped in the fryer. The sourdough bases have the longest fermentation time at three days, giving them a satisfying char and chew.
We tried: the ox cheek number with red wine ragu, béchamel, and Grana Padano – it’s a true classic here and very hard to beat. With weekly specials, we also tucked into a marrow bone pizza, with shallot, pickled walnut, capers and parsley – pure pizza joy, and a joint favourite of the evening.
One day barely allows you to scratch the surface of what Bristol has to offer in terms of Pizza, but what our crawl did afirm was that the perfect pizza is in the palate of the beholder, and whether you gave a traditional or more modern in inclination, your perfect pizza is guaranteed to be found somewhere in this fine city.