56 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JJ
Tel: 020 7729 1888
Cost per person without wine: £30
AFTER visits last week to both Pizza East in Shoreditch and the Soho House Group’s other recent venture, Dean Street Townhouse in Soho, it is impossible to question the money-spinning expertise of this group.
Dean Street was so packed that a 9pm booking mid-week was the best they could do. Inside, well-heeled people of all ages and levels of trendiness hung off the bar and thronged the tables.
After the close confines of the Townhouse, Pizza East is cavernous. In the former Tea Building in Shoreditch, it’s the kind of place that – run by anyone else – would feel uninviting. Aren’t exposed brick and beam warehouse-style venues so 10 years ago?
But the warehouse was full and buzzy – even pulsating. There were long benches lined with attractive Shoreditch types – some looked City-based in suits, others more arty – all enjoying the eminently affordable pizza and classy range of nibbles to accompany. They were knocking back their wine in those squat, cheap tumblers that have mysteriously become cool.
We took our seats in the back of the restaurant near a DJ who played good tunes at the right volume levels, and commenced our feast with a plate of thick and good bresaola, piquant pecorino and excellent creamy taleggio. The pre-pizza menu is extensive, with Fried and Baked sections, as well as the deli (where the meat and cheese comes from). We had some delightfully moreish roast mussels, each little creature crowned with fennel aioli and speckled with garlic, and a salad of buffalo mozzarella, olives and chard, which was rich and generous – the cheese was the proper job, almost liquid inside and with a bolshy milk flavour. None of your bland, store-bought rubber.
The pizza, supposedly the main event, was good but not unparalleled. I am pretty certain you could find equally rewarding pizza at numerous restaurants around town. That said, it was good: thin, nicely baked crust that was crisp in the right places, and generously decked with eclectic but well-chosen ingredients: spicy sausage, sprouting broccoli, garlic and mozzarella. Other unusual toppings include veal meatballs, clams, pancetta and leek.
Just to test the non-pizza side of things, we ordered sea bass with butternut squash and pumpkin seed vinaigrette. At £15, it probably should have been served on a proper plate, not a starter-sized one, but it was a nice piece of fish, if a bit overwhelmed by a massive, squelchy clod of squash. The flavours were excellent though. Our salad of baby gem lettuce with pancetta, hazelnuts, pear and gorgonzola dressing coated in the rich blue cheese, was certainly an intense experience. At £9, it’s not clear what part of your meal you’d expect it to be – perhaps a high fat, low-carb main. Middle white pork belly with borlotti beans, cavalo nero and salsa verde would also have been a good choice.
Now, there was one big no-no that was not only poor show in itself, but hinted at some wider problem. The white wine seems to be served at room temperature, not just by mistake, but because that’s how Pizza East rolls. If you’re going to give people (not particularly cheap) wine in cheap tumblers that scream “rustic charm”, then either lower the price of the wine to £2 a glass, or make sure it’s good enough to withstand its inferior vessel. Do not serve it so callously that glass after glass of white is lukewarm (I tried three different ones) – that’s just unpleasant. I sent back the first glass of Chardonnay (£6.50 per 175ml) and it was replaced with a slightly colder version while my friend – because she’s nice – contented herself with a glass of ice to fork into her wine.
Pizza East is a concept of cool that has been monetised brilliantly. But for all that – and the fact that it is a great place to cram your mouth with well-made, rustic Italian food – the Soho House Group mustn’t get so smug and cynical that it thinks white wine can be served both in tumblers and at room temperature. That isn’t cool – no matter how hip you are.
IN A NUTSHELL:
Cavernous but crowded Shoreditch hotspot serving great pizza and other rustic Italian dishes – but beware the warm white wine served (like the red) in tumblers.