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Pizza Pilgrims – 11 Dean Street, Soho
I love pizza. It is quite possibly my favourite food. When I worked in Soho, I used to walk to Berwick Street Market where there was always a great selection of street food available. You had everything from Indian to Mexican to Italian. You were actually spoilt for choice. One of my favourite vendors was the Pizza Pilgrims. Their pizzas were simple and delicious and cheap! A rare thing in London. I used to go there at least once a week for one of their pizzas, so you can imagine my excitement when they opened their first pizzeria in Soho. I remember walking past Pizza Pilgrims’ opening night and seeing the queue snake its way out of the front door and down on to Dean Street and being shocked at just how popular these guys were. It took a few months before getting around to going myself, but when I did…it was nothing like the Pizza Pilgrim Van. The charm had gone, the food was mediocre at best and the service…well, you’d get better service in a Burger King.
The night started off as any standard gay night out. I met with a few of my friends, Chad, Alan and David. We were heading off to London Studios to watch Alan Carr interview Britney Spears (gays gone wild!). Unfortunately, we were too late to get in to the audience, so headed to Circa on Frith Street for a couple of drinks. I always love going in to Circa, it’s one of the few bars in Soho that has its own identity and doesn’t follow trends. It also has some of the best DJ’s London has to offer play there including Kris Di Angelis and Jodie Harsh. After a few vodka tonics, I had a sudden urge for food and Chad suggested Pizza Pilgrim. I was very happy to go along with this idea. So happy, I think I may have even jumped around a little bit.
We arrived at Pizza Pilgrim around 7pm and there was already a queue to get in. The hostess was very welcoming and accommodating. We asked if there was a table free for 4 and she had just the one left. The fusball table. Now to me, this sounded pretty awesome. For those who don’t know, fusball is basically table football. We were taken from the cool entrance upstairs where they have the pizza chefs and this fantastic clay oven, and shown to our table downstairs. The space in the basement is pretty impressive. They’ve utilised every inch of the building and decorated the place in some really cool old school Italian newspaper cuttings and used mini Campari bottles to create light fittings. We were shown to our table and I could see why no one really wanted to sit there. Even though it was really cool, it was also right next to the toilets. I found this quite comical to be honest. This wasn’t a fine dining restaurant or high class venue. This was a pizzeria which originated from a van in a market place.
The menu was good. It had a nice selection of pizzas, with toppings to suit everyone. As well as the standard Margherita, there was the Portobello Mushroom and Truffle Pizza and Calzone with prosciutto, ricotta, tomato and fior di latte. All sounded wonderful. Drink wise, we opted for wine, for the simple fact that it is served by the litre. THE LITRE! But don’t get too excited. It’s poured by tap through these barrels. The wine was warm and pretty flavourless. We ended up having to put ice in to make it somewhat bearable.
After about 5 minutes, the hostess (not a waiter or waitress) took our food order. That was the last we were to see of any member of staff at our table. The service was poor. Not once did anyone come to check on us and when we had run out of drinks, my friends actually had to pick up the carafe and go to the bar to order it. It was a complete shambles. You could see the staff rushing about without much leadership. At one point, I clocked the manager/owner propped up against the bar tweeting! I’ve not been working as a restaurant manager for about 2 years now, but at no point during service would I pull my phone out and start tweeting, especially when there was so much chaos in the place. Luckily, my friends and I were happy enough chatting and gossiping, but it did feel like we were put on a table and forgotten about.
Back to the food. To start with, we shared some marinated olives and Pepperonata. The Pepperonata was quite lovely actually. It was a chilled starter of roasted red peppers and onions served with buffalo mozzarella and baby spinach, capers and basil. Some great flavours that really worked well together. The olives on the other hand were just meh. Were they marinated? I doubt it. They were bitter and bland. I’m pretty sure they came out of a can that was filled with olive oil. Very disappointing.
For mains, we all obviously went for pizza. My friend Alan ordered the calzone vegetarian, I went for the artichoke, ricotta and smoked garlic oil and my other 2 friends opted for the Nduja with salami. The calzone was nice enough, but unimaginative. It basically consisted of cheese, tomato and spinach…lots of spinach. Alan seemed to enjoy it, but he did comment on the amount of spinach. Chad and David liked their pizzas too, but there did seem to be only a tiny sprinkle of cheese. Real Italian pizza isn’t smothered, I know, but it has more than 8 small cubes. Then we get to my pizza. What a disaster! All I could taste was burnt dough and salt. Let me dissect the dish for you. The base was nice and light…but only the edible parts. My crust was burnt and the base was too. It had a strong charcoal taste throughout. The tomato sauce was actually pretty good, but incredibly simple, basically sieved tomato passata. Then the toppings. Oh my. The ricotta was good. That’s all that can be said for it. The artichoke was, well, artichoke and as for the smoked garlic oil, I think they skipped that part. It was a complete disaster, like Speed 2.
When it came to getting the bill, it just seemed like such a mission and we had to go out of our way to get it and pay. It’s such a shame because I love independent bars and restaurants, especially when they come from something as special as a small green van selling street food. It just seems to me that they jumped into this without any proper thought or experience. I hate bashing restaurants, I honestly do, but sometimes, a place gets it so badly wrong that they need to read things like this to be able to improve. Would I go again, I want to say yes, but I don’t think I will for at least another 6 months. By then, I hope they’ve managed to sort themselves out. But until then, I will definitely be going to their small green van and enjoying their pizzas from there.
Total bill £97.00 Excl service.