This post has been a long time coming, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m glad to see the back of it! Since September last year my good pal Fran from the Graphic Foodie and I have been eating pizza, sometimes four back to back in an evening, with varying results.
We each had a few places in mind, but both took to Twitter to ask for your suggestions and the same names came back time and time again; Pizzaface, La Cucina and Pronto in Tavola. We’re nothing if not obedient and immediately added them to the list. If you think that there are some really obvious ones that we’ve missed off, then we have probably done so intentionally.
So what on earth possessed us to go on a mission to devour the majority of pizza that our home city has to offer? Neither of us can remember exactly, it just seemed like a good idea at the time…
This is where I have to hold my hands up and say that my criteria probably weren’t as exacting as Fran’s. Despite having worked at Pizza Express for seven years when I was younger, I started out on this challenge as a fresher, a newbie along for the ride in a foodie experiment, with a pizza aficionado or two leading the way. However, having eaten 13 pizzas with the above criteria in the back of my mind, I feel like I’m now fairly confident in my pizza judging abilities. I did attempt to mark them out of ten like I did with my roast challenge, but it was just too hard to put a number on some of the levels of mediocrity and disappointment. My words will have to do.
Some of the places featured I have done full reviews of too, which I’ll have linked below, and I’ve kept to the same format for each review, the good, the bad and AOB. I do reference some of the criteria from above, particularly more towards the end of the end of the post.
I hope you enjoy it, it’s pretty safe to say you won’t be seeing another pizza post on my blog for a very long time indeed…
A few things worth noting:
– Wood-fired pizza ovens are superior to electric ones.
– Leoparding is the black speckles you get on the base and rim.
– A cornicione is the raised rim of the pizza. Done right, it should be puffed up with leoparding too, according to Fran and Michael this can only be achieved with a wood-fired oven.
Our first attempt was, in my opinion, one of, if not the worst of the bunch. In fact, I’m going to scrap the format to go out on a limb and say it was the worst. I know Fran will disagree, and the one she deems to be worst, was dreadful, really dreadful, but my overall experience of Maroccos was so cataclysmically awful that it just pips it to the post. I think the pictures actually do the job perfectly for me in terms of demonstrating my reasons, but in case you want it spelt out; their offering was flaccid and soggy, thanks to not having anywhere near enough time in the (electric) oven, and the seemingly numerous ladles of tomato sauce drowned the raw and anaemic looking base on which it sat. Bitterly disappointing, especially as it’s run by a family of Italians. Some of the most revolting loos I’ve ever seen as well, although apparently they’ve been refurbished now.
After a little bit of digging we discovered that the ‘new kid’ on the pizza scene was actually its (much maligned) predecessor, The Gourmet Pizza Kitchen, but rebranded. Same owners, same chefs and the same pizza oven, just a different name and menu. I’d had three or four takeaways from this place in it’s old guise, the last one being so terrible I began to pen a review of it, only to discover that it had shut down a few days after my visit.
The good bits: There was some leoparding and the beginnings of a cornicione, not great though. They sold bottles of rose lemonade (I’m clutching at straws here).
The bad bits: The cheese was a mix of mozzarella and and a ‘filler’ cheese (cheddar probably), you can tell by the orange colour and it tasted cheap and nasty too. Severe case of baker’s droop on the top right, so much so that all the topping slipped off into a gooey heap before I could even snap a photo on my iPhone. The experts at the table tell me this is because they’d made the base too thin.
AOB: Out of all of them this is the one which stands out least in my mind. Perhaps I was still in shock from my experience at Marroccos.
Fran and I both visited this separate to the pizza challenge, her on a couple of occasions actually, so we didn’t bother visiting together, perhaps we should’ve done, as our experiences seemed to vary quite a lot.
The good bits: Whichever tomato sauce they use, I liked it a lot. The cheese was the perfectly melted and the pepperoni was miles better than any I’ve eaten in a while.
The bad bits: the base was soggy and flaccid. Unpitted, albeit tasty, olives and although the cornicione had puffed up at bit, it didn’t have the pleasing black leoparding on that the wood-fired oven should’ve created. It tasted nice, but was seriously lacking in the airy and crispiness some of the others’d had in such abundance. For some reason, known only to the person assembling it, the promised basil had been substituted for some slightly apologetic looking rocket, which was a shame.
AOB: We asked for the rest to takeaway and weirdly, they didn’t have any boxes so whacked it into one of those foil-lined bags that takeaway naan bread often comes in. Needless to say, it didn’t travel well. I’m assuming this means that they don’t do takeaway?
I’d driven past this place many many times, and wondered about it each time I did, but for some reason never went in. Fran works near there and was keen to try it as well, so this was always a definite must for part 2 of the challenge.
The good bits: the sausage, oh the sausage, spicy and rich with flavours from the seasoning and fennel that helped to bind it together. The ratio of cheese to tomato was perfect, it had virtually no droopage and just the right amount of leoparding too. We had to wait about 20 minutes for it, but it was reassuringly rammo for 7pm on a Friday evening, with a constant stream of takeaways going out the door too. At £7, it’s the second cheapest one from the whole challenge, and well worth the money.
The bad bits: The base was a little bit too crisp and the cornicione wasn’t as puffy as it could have been, it really wasn’t the end of the world though.
AOB: If you want me to firmly commit to my favourite pizza of the challenge, then I’d have to say this was it, it really is a close call between that and Jamie Oliver for me though. I definitely want to go back, and eat in next time. I’ve got my eye on the arancini and the octopus fishcake from the starter menu, I want some more of their delicious, nutella filled cannoli too.
Bite me- £9.50
I really wanted this place to be better than the building that houses it (an old public toilet) but I’m sad to say that I left, distinctly underwhelmed.
The good bits: It was edible, in the sense that we ate it, more out of hunger than anything else. I did actually quite enjoy the shaved pecorino on top too.
The bad bits: This pizza saw the return of the cheap orange cheese mix we saw at Morelli Zorelli. Pretty galling when you think that a large one of these pizzas is £17!! The base was as flat as a pancake and just look at those sad, puny,congealed individual slices. I’ve wondered a few times since then, if anyone actually bought them, I do hope not, and I hate to see food go to waste.
AOB: On a par with the ‘meh’ pizza we were served up by Morelli Zorelli. It’s not the worst pizza we ate by any means, it just wasn’t great at all. Plus it was unlucky that it came in the wake of Pizza 500’s triumph. I certainly wouldn’t hurry back, or say that I could recommend it.
This place piqued my interest during one of my many trips to my beloved Sugardough Bakery, as they’re neighbours, on Hove seafront, just before the King Alfred Centre. We actually tried to visit during the first leg of the challenge, in the summer, but they’d closed for a month.
The good bits: The restaurant is super cute, as Fran put it; ‘like eating in an Italian restaurant in a Disney film’. It’d be a brilliant place for a date, I loved it. The staff were charming and the owner, Franco, came over and had a chat with us about the food, and the oven and how busy they are etc. I loved the toppings, one of the only ones to use fresh basil (my favourite herb) and buffalo mozzarella. This pizza was the cheapest of the entire challenge, and it certainly didn’t taste like it. They brought us out a complementary bruschetta while we waited too, a lovely touch, we thought. The rest of the menu looked great, I particularly liked the look of the hare ragu on the specials board, although game season is pretty much done now so it might not be on the menu anymore.
The bad bits: the pizza hadn’t been cooked long enough. The lack of wood fired oven was evident in both the colour and the size of the cornicione.
AOB: They are pretty much ‘off grid’ in terms of the internet. They have no website, don’t use Twitter and only update their Facebook page a bit, so I’d definitely suggest ringing in advance to see if they’re open, and if they are, that they’ve got space. We got lucky the night we went in and they were turning over tables while we were there too. Good luck to them, I would definitely go back again.
Rustichella – £12.40
This is and will always be, the biggest pizza-related bone of contention with Fran and I. I love it, she hates it. Neither of us will ever change, however, I will concede, that delicious as it is, if we’re playing by her rules, it’s not a ‘proper pizza’.
The good bits: This is one of my all time favourite Pizza Express pizzas, and trust me, I have tried pretty much every flavour combination going. Runny egg, crispy pancetta and my favourite caesar dressing drizzled over a scattering of rocket. I know Fran will be cringing as she reads this, but I’m unashamed in my love for this pizza.
The bad bits: Much as I hate to utter a bad word about my previous employers, with an extra egg, this pizza came in at £14, the most expensive of them all by far. It was half term, ridiculously busy and the food took so long that Fran had to get hers to go as she had to go back to work. To be fair to them, the way that they dealt with it was exemplary and they comped our main courses as well. I know I’ll be back, many times probably, but I would bet everything that I own that Fran won’t be!
My love of this well loved Lewes pizzeria is well documented here on this blog as well as all of my social media channels. It’s the place that Fran insisted I go to, swearing I would never again settle for any of the rubbish offerings in Brighton once I had. Michael the owner is an Artisan baker and quite frankly, a bit of a genius. He came on the first leg of the pizza challenge with us to offer his expert opinions and we’ve been keeping him up to date via Twitter about the rest.
Before you say it, I know, I KNOW it doesn’t have a permanent base in Brighton. But it DID have a pop up at by Brighton station at the end of last year so I think at the very least, it deserves an honourable mention. I know I can’t rightfully class it as the overall winner though.
The good bits: The base, the leoparding, the amount, the distribution and the flavour of the toppings. All of it basically. Is it better than everything else we ate on the challenge. Yes, but then I think in my heart of hearts I always knew it was going to be.
The bad bits: If I had to level any sort of criticism at it I would probably say that the pizza was definitely a lot more well done on one side than the other, I presume because it was turned too late- who cares anyway, it was bloody lovely.
Italian hot- £12
I reviewed Jamie’s Italian in January after being contacted by their very lovely PR lady. I’d heard whispers that they were now serving pizzas from their wood-fired oven, so when I was indeed presented with a short but succinct pizza menu, I tweeted Fran to let her know that I was ‘taking one for the team’. What I hadn’t anticipated was being so impressed that I insisted we go back together so I could get her verdict.
The good bits: The service, the setting and the loos are all absolutely lovely, no complaints on that score, during either of my visits. And actually, for me, no complaints with the food either really. I genuinely really liked it, and I’d happily eat it again as well. Just the right amount of toppings and the fresh San Marzano tomatoes were a gorgeous addition. Great cocktails too.
The bad bits: Nothing really, the one I had with my Mum (above) was very slightly better than the one I had with Fran, but there really wasn’t much in it. There was very little leoparding on this one either, despite the wood-fired oven.
AOB: For me, this was one of the best, up there with Pizza 500, in flavour and criteria-wise, just nearly double the price. If you’re in that neck of the woods and your head is swimming with all the chain pizza places on offer, you could do a lot worse than ending up here. A big thumbs up from me.
Until last Wednesday, I think I may be the only person I know who had never tried a Pizzaface pizza. Fran had already tried it on a couple of occasions and written it off entirely, so I decided to go it alone and picked one up on my way home from having a few drinks. *disclaimer* I’d had three, strong cocktails. I waited about 5 minutes for my pizza while they cooked it in the electric oven.
The good bits: This is going to sound weird, because it’s is one of the blandest things there is, but this was the nicest mascarpone I’ve ever eaten. Seriously good and really really worked with the other toppings. I loved the salami and I happily polished off the whole thing.
The bad bits: The base really wasn’t the greatest and had a pretty serious case of the droop, even after the brisk five minute walk in the cold. Top left and right are before and after shots.
AOB: Although I don’t think it’s the best pizza, it certainly isn’t the worst, and when you put it up against the likes of Papa Johns and Dominos, I can kind of understand why Pizzaface has become so well loved. I wouldn’t mind eating from there again if the opportunity arose, I just wouldn’t go out of my way to do so.
Of everywhere we went, this place really did live down to my expectations. Let me explain:
The good bits: The service was quick and really friendly. The wood fired oven was manned by skilled, bored looking chefs, who are obviously wasted churning out the food that they were. Said wood fired oven, was, according to Fran, ‘up to high’ as a result of which, the promising looking base was overdone and dry (sorry I am trying to be positive, but it’s hard).
The bad bits: Swimming in basic tomato sauce and topped with eye wateringly salty, bog standard anchovies and olives. I suppose another good thing was that it made me grateful for the vile 241 cocktail I was drinking. Such a shame, because with better quality toppings and a bit more love, it could’ve been really good.
AOB: The loos. Oh. My. Days. This isn’t a case of ‘oh their cleaner’s off with a bad back, they’ve let things slide a bit’, this is hardcore. They proudly display a 5/5 scores on the doors badge on their front window- I checked the site and this was early in 2013, they need to sort their lives out, sharpish.
So I agonised LONG and hard about this, but I decided not to post a photo of the loos. It is SO disgusting, a literal shit hole and I actually don’t want it in the middle of my beautiful blog post. However, there is a photo montage, which, if you’re not eating, I suggest you take a look at. Find the photo on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram .
You have no idea how disappointed I am to have to write this place anything less than a glowing review. It’s tiny, independently run and tucked away on the Brighton Hove border, so tucked away in fact, that it took Fran and I a good 10 minutes or so to find it!
The good bits: The homemade spicy fennel sausage, despite looking grey and vaguely unattractive looking above, was totally delicious, although it has to be said, not especially spicy. The owner is charming, the tiny restaurant is adorable and it’s very obvious that it’s heart is in the right place. £8 for the size and quality of the toppings was very reasonable too I thought.
The bad bits: One of the worst cases of baker’s droop of the entire challenge. So underdone, that it was almost impossible to eat without soggily collapsing in your hands and made me wistful for the sturdy base at Al Duomo… for a moment at least. Such a shame.
AOB: It was basically an underdone and less spicy version of the Pizza I had at Pizza 500. I would definitely give it another go though, as I loved the venue the rest of the menu looks really interesting too. When I can face eating pizza again I’ll go back and update you again.
As I said at the top of the post, La Cucina was a name that was tweeted to us again and again and can I just say on behalf of Fran and I, CHEERS GUYS. Although, I can’t really blame you. A year ago I would’ve looked at that and thought ‘ What’s the problem, plenty of topping, nice thin base etc’ but let me tell you, after a thorough and intense pizza boot camp with Fran, that pizza is a joke.
The good bits: If there was a gun to my head and I had to think of one positive, it’d be that it was ready in less than five minutes.
The bad bits: We all have stupid ideas, we all get it wrong sometimes. But I’m not sure I’ve ever have been as wrong as the person who decided that buying a pizza base press was a good idea. On closer inspection, the base had a pock-marked surface, presumably inflicted upon it by the pizza mangle. It looked like a ritz cracker, but sadly, it didn’t taste as good as one. It tasted gross. So gross in fact, the bottom right photo is what we left.
Fran posted a picture on Twitter shortly after our mouthful of La Cucina and I thought I’d share a couple of my favourite responses to her tweet:
‘That vertical crust makes me want to punch something’
‘that looks like a pretty serious flesh wound, or roadkill’
and the best of all,
‘my pizza from there tonight might as well have been made from an outsized rich tea biscuit’.
Say what you want about Twitter, but it really does bring it with the LOLs.
I’m not going to review it, you all know the drill. But just so’s you know, I tried the full spectrum of pizza in the name of this challenge and this was not the winner. Fran was in no way connected to this picture and I’m not sure she’ll ever forgive me for it’s existence either….
So there you have it, my comprehensive guide to Brighton and Hove pizzas, it’s been… emotional.
So come on then you lot, where do YOU think the best pizza in Brighton and Hove is? Have you tried any of the places above? What did you think? Please do comment below or Tweet me x