This new pizza place has found its feet pretty sharpish, reckons Jessica Carter
“You know what we’re lacking in this city? Pizza joints” – words no Bristolian has uttered since at least 2013. In fact, both Bristol and Bath are flooded with the Italian staple. That said, we don’t hear anyone moaning that there’s too many of ’em, either – they’ve each got their own style and a different vibe, meaning the scene is far from repetitive. From the dough to the toppings, the cooking methods to the restaurant style, no two pizzerias do it the same, meaning our patch has all bases (ahem) covered.
And that is even truer now that we have Romanesca on Gloucester Road. You see, when it comes to pizza, it’s not all about Naples. That puffy, doughy base, with its thick, bubbly crust and less-is-more rule when it comes to toppings is but one way of doing things – it sure isn’t the only way.
This was owner Greg Hyne’s realisation, when he decided to open his own pizza restaurant. No one was doing as the Romans do – and he felt this was quite the oversight. A keen amateur baker who’s been working with sourdough for around 20 years, Greg left his office-based job to open his first restaurant, launching Romanesca at the very end of 2016. It took a year’s worth of recipe development and fermentation experiments to get the perfect Roman-style sourdough base: light and airy, but crisp and firm enough to hold a decent amount of toppings. Greg makes all the bases himself, working a day in advance so he can retard the dough, allowing it to develop extra flavour. Then it’s baked in a hot electric oven for five or six minutes, not being suited to a 90-second blast in a wood-fired oven, Naples style.
Romanesca is housed in a former Chinese takeaway, which had been empty for some months before being taken over. As part of its makeover, it had some proper Bristolian street art treatment; a mural on the back walls combines landmarks from both Rome and Bristol to form a flying phoenix.
The menu is pretty straightforward; a handful of good-value starters (all around a fiver) give you the option to try the kitchen’s take on fresh Italian dishes, and then lead into the main event of pizza. Lots of the ingredients come from an Italian deli close to where Greg lives, meaning that much of what the kitchen’s working with has come from Italy.
To start was the burratina (£5.25). The fresh, creamy cheese – crowned by chopped basil – oozed happily when it was sliced into, and came with rich dried tomatoes, spicy nduja and slices of crisp, bubbly sourdough. Those fresh flavours had Italy written through them like a stick of rock. The freschella (£4.95) saw soft, crumbly cheese drizzed with olive oil and served alongside little balsamic onions, good quality olives and – yes! – more sourdough.
And so to the pizza. The signature Romanesca (£13) is a white pizza – i.e. sans tomato sauce – with roasted baby plum tomatoes dotted among the melted fior di latte and Gorgonzola cheeses. The juicy, skinless toms burst in the mouth with rich, sweet flavour. Salty anchovies provided plenty of punch, and soft nduja a gentle spice. The Rosa (£13), named after the Neapolitan cook who makes some of the toppings, came wearing the classic tomato mozzarella and basil, as well as Italian sausage and friarielli – tender leafy greens.
The Cavalo Nero (£13) proved itself to be an ace veggie option, with hunks of sweet, earthy beetroot and caramelised onion balanced by creamy freschella cheese. The lack of tomato sauce means you can appreciate those delicate flavours. The Sicilianish (£13) is a good pescatarian choice, pokey with capers and soft, melting anchovy fillets. Romanesca offers take away too, and you can order your grub for delivery via Deliveroo. And, thanks to their Roman-style bases, I imagine these guys might travel even better than their Neapolitan cousins. (That’s based not only on the fact that they’re served as street food in Rome, and so are made specifically to be taken away, but also the current condition of last night’s leftover slices, which I’m happily chewing on right now.)
As a first venture from someone with no professional food background, we’re rather impressed with this place, and keen to see how it’s going to progress ad develop over time…
ROMANESCA, 365 Gloucester Road, Bristol BS7 8TN; 0117 329 5990