Sunday, 22 December 2013

A Tale of Two Slices: The Bournemouth Pizza Co. & Pizza Pilgrims

In one of my favourite scenes from one of my favourite films, Kevin McAllister finally gets his 'lovely cheese pizza, just for me'. It's a big moment for an 8 year old boy who's been left home alone; and being the same age myself when the film was released, it made a big impression.

Years later, and no matter however much I convince myself that I have sophisticated tastes, I still haven't found many better things than a hot, crispy slice of pizza fresh from the oven (or even a cold one left over from the night before); especially when you don't have to share.

I have to admit I've got pretty Catholic tastes when it comes to this Italian export - enjoying most examples ranging from supermarket frozen jobs with their sparse scattering of frozen cheese and metallic tomato, right through to the giant, crisp Romanesque varieties served in a back street just off the Pizza Navona.

While I may be pretty easy to please sometimes I get a craving that only a wood-fired pie will fix. Thankfully, I now can find one pretty close to home (in a classic Chiltern pub, no less; blog to follow at some point soon), but that doesn't mean it isn't useful to have a ship in every port, and I was pretty pleased to find a pizza in the Bournemouth budget eats article in the Guardian just before my latest jaunt down south to see the girls.

This find was even more convenient knowing that they are a stone's throw from the travel interchange, meaning would could visit for a restorative Sunday lunch lunch and Stealth could easily waddle back across the road to catch her early ride back to the Big Smoke (her assertions that there would be leftovers for tomorrow's lunch being wildly optimistic).

The decor is clean and utilitarian; all blonde wood and white walls, with a choice of communal benches in the middle and counter seats in the windows. Although we were the only diners eating in they seemed to be doing a fair trade in take out orders, and, although recently granted a licence, you can BYO booze, too.

A dish of, very garlicky, olives were bought gratis, to munch while we we perused the menu. To drink I chose ice cold San Pellegrino Aranciata - A.K.A nectar from the Gods when you're still feeling slightly delicate from the night before.

I picked the, rather exciting sounding, Al Cinghiale (wild boar salami and spring greens) to split with the Ewing. This was a decent, if unspectacular pizza. The crust was very good, but the wild boar salami and sprinkling of greens, while tasting fine, seemed slightly ordinary after promising much. The chilli and herb oil supplied was properly poky, though.

The Ewing's choice, a bolognese calzone from the special's board, was great. When I was a teenager a favourite late night drunken snack was a slice of my Mum's lasagne stuffed into a baguette and this was rather like a more sophisticated version; the rich, mushroom-studded filling topped with pools of melty mozzerella being just what the doctor ordered.

The lovely Leona (jumper model's own) with her Fiorentina (fresh spinach and an egg).  although I am an avowed egg hater in its natural form, even I could see the appeal of the perfectly soft orange yolk bursting as over the puffy crust; and, despite assertions that she wouldn't be able to finish this beast, there was barely a crumb left at the end.

Stealth, too, wanted some hangover-busting protein on her pizza, and so chose the Capriciosa (artichokes, mushrooms, black olives, cooked Italian ham and Oregano) with an extra egg. Another great looking pie, and bonus points for the handy Ikea pizza wheels supplied to each of us ,that negated the need for the hopeless hacking that most pizza eaters descend into after cutting a couple of slices.

Fabio's homemade tiramisu - 'with booze', is there any other kind? - was sadly off limits for the designated drivers who still had the long trek home to think of, and I couldn't even find a willing volunteer to divvy up the banana and Nutella calzone with me.

Disappointingly wishy washy cappuccinos couldn't provide the kickstart that was needed to lift us out of a carb-coma, but overall a small quibble that didn't detract from what was a very good provincial pie.

Bournemouth Pizza Co on Urbanspoon
After Bournemouth, my pie itched was momentarily scratched, but Christmas trip to see Stealth and visit Sloan Square for carols and mulled wine meant another cheeky pizza stop was on the cards. This time it did mean navigating the hell known as Oxford Street on a weekend just before the big day, but it seemed worth it to try the new Sunday opening at Soho's Pizza Pilgrim's.

While the corner sight may look bijou from the street level - the ground floor being almost entirely taken up by the oven and some counter seating, perfect for people watching - there is plenty more room downstairs; they've even got a fussball table and a bar.

Decor is traditional Italo-American (it reminded me of our trip to Grimaldi's in Brooklyn) complete with wipe down gingham tablecloths and menus and  a mix of retro film and advertising posters on the walls.

I drank an Aperol Spritz (they also serve prosecco on tap), while the Ewing honed her liking for bitter, appetite-whetting aperitifs with the Campari con Bianco (with white wine). They also have Moretti, Oro di Milano, a short list of Italian wines and limoncello and grappa to round the night off.

The Salsiccia E Friarielli, a beautiful looking pizza with a diameter so large it hung well over the edge of the plate it was served on. Unlike the Bournemouth number, this version of greens and sausage came as a pizza bianca, without any tomato. In fact, it was very similar to the version I first tried at Santa Maria, Ealing, with its generous scattering of iron-rich, soft sautéed broccoli rabe and (slightly anaemic) chunks of sausage.

This was a very fine pizza, strewn with plenty of sweet, milky mozzerella and a wonderfully puffy, chewy crust with just the requisite amount of char. With the richness of the beast I could have done with the house made chilli oil having a bit more punch, but really that's a minor quibble for what was a great pie.

The 'Bloody-Mary-Nara' sauce was fabulous, a fresh blend of tomato and celery seeds with a back of the throat tickle coming from the Tabasco, Lea and Perrins and vodka, and finished with a liberal dusting of  razor thin garlic, al la Goodfellas, and fresh basil.

Of course the negative consequence of the liberal amounts of sauce on top did cause somewhat of a soggy bottom.While normally this is a bit of a bugbear, with a sauce this good I actually didn't mind it too much; the Ewing agreed, finding it her pick of the two pizzas and happily managing to scarf every last pizza bone.

Sadly - for the second time, almost unheard of - this meant she couldn't contemplate a pudding, not even the famed Nutella and ricotta ring, a mincemeat calzone (as part of the very worthy, @mincepieproject) or festive Christmas pudding ice cream (supplied by Gelupo) stuffed inside pannetone. Still, all the more reason to return in the New Year.

Pizza Pilgrims on Urbanspoon

And, just in case you were under any illusion that it was easy to churn out decent pizza, here's how the lovely Stealth recently, and very inventively, 'pimped' a bog-standard supermarket offering; yes, those are frozen peas....

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