“I took my first bite of pizza and I had an orgasm.”
Everyone round the the table nods in silent assent. My friend is talking about his dining experience at the famous L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele in Naples (said to be the world’s best pizza). As a fellow lover of food, I instantly feel as though I am among my people.
We’re not in Napoli though, rather Kingley Court – a cute little enclave of trendy bars and restaurants just off London’s bustling Carnaby Street. My sister and I are spending the afternoon with some Italian friends, and when she suggested pizza, you could almost see the disappointment on their faces – after all, why would you take Italians to eat pizza in London?
They were too polite to verbalise their confusion so off we marched to Pizza Pilgrims.
Most of the waiting staff seem to be Italian and after catching a sight of the pillowy perfectly-leoparded crusts, our friends are happy to sit and wait for a table. We’re told it will be up to 20 minutes, but it’s closer to five. “In Italy you would have been waiting an hour,” they say.
There’s not much on the menu for vegans: olives, marinara pizza and ghiaccioli (ice lollies). But this really is a case of quality over quantity. Even before becoming vegan I would sometimes opt for a marinara pizza – tomato, garlic, olive oil and basil (or oregano). The simplicity of the ingredients list means each element has to be perfect. When they are, it is so much more than the sum of its parts. At Pizza Pilgrims they are perfect: billowly flavourful dough, rich sweet tomato with a tiny, ascerbic edge, piquant garlic. Douse the whole thing in very good olive oil for added richness.
None of us speak while we eat the first few slices (the sound of silence usually signals good food). A game of swapsies starts, someone trying a slice or a corner of someone else’s pizza. Appreciative murmurs fill the silence.
Everyone’s plates are left completely empty.
Pizza Pilgrims started life as a mobile operation – a woodfired oven in the back of an Ape van (a three-wheeler). There are now several branches in London – Kingley Court, Shoreditch, Canary Wharf, Soho, Covent Garden, Exmouth Market and Swingers. So far the swift expansion of the brand hasn’t harmed the product at all – fingers crossed it stays that way.
The venues themselves have a cool vibe with super Mario and Italian posters of spaghetti western movies adorning the walls (Un Pugno di Dollari) and checked green and white cloths on tables. Some branches have table football but I was too busy eating to play.
The drinks list is also good: try the Lola Cherry Cola for a super sweet cocktail – Disaronno, Prosecco and Chinotto (my dad calls it Italian Coca Cola though it is derived from fruit). There are also draft beers and cans of San Pellegrino drinks.
And what about the price? For London, Pizza Pilgrims is amazingly inexpensive. My marinara cost £5.50. The bill for a table of five (three having alcoholic drinks, and two having espresso after dinner) came to around £60. That’s exceptional value for central London and food that good.
When it comes to pizza, nothing is going to beat the one my brother makes in his homemade woodfired oven – but Pizza Pilgrims comes a very good second, and it’s definitely the best pizza these Italians had ever had outside their native land.