Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pizza at Story Deli, London

What is a pizza? What constitutes whether or not something is actually a "pizza"? It seems like an easy question to answer; after all we all know what a pizza should look like and what it should taste like. So what is it? Is it the toppings? The ingredients? Or the type of dough? What exactly are the factors that make a pizza a "legitimate" one? And under what circumstances will we start questioning, or doubting, whether or not something is actually a pizza? This is an interesting discussion and I sure hope you're not expecting answers from me 'cause I don't have them! I merely wanted to pick your brain since those were some of the questions I had after my visit to Story Deli (Facebook: Story Deli) in East London.

When I was in London last month for Chowzter's 2014 Fast Feast Awards I was told that I must visit Story Deli in Bethnal Green. I didn't need much convincing - Story Deli's Margherita took home "The Tastiest Fast Feast in the World" as well as "Best Pizza in the World" awards at the inaugural Chowzter Awards last year. "Nobody can beat the Italians for making amazing pizzas that build on centuries of tradition, but Story Deli has taken that tradition and turned it on its head" says Chowzter’s founder, Jeffrey Merrihue.

From the video it should be obvious why some people, especially the purists, will argue that Story Deli's pizzas are not actually pizzas. First off, since organic certified yeast is not available, owner Lee Hollingworth of Story Deli spent almost two years developing a base that worked without using yeast. Hollingworth first flattens this no-yeast dough with a rolling pin then piles on a generous amount of organic toppings. The pizza is baked in a conventional oven at 400°C (750°F) for under a minute before being brought out to rest for another minute. After resting it is then brought back into the oven for another minute. This entire process takes less than five minutes and the result is a crunchy, wafer-thin blistered crust with heaps of super-fresh, top quality toppings. What also distinguishes Story Deli from other pizzerias is that Hollingworth only uses 100% certified organic ingredients (he won’t use anything that’s not made from natural produce). No siree there is no doubt that this modest hidden gem doesn't serve traditional pizza. 

If you passed by Story Deli you wouldn't even think to peak inside because it's too hipster for a sign. Step inside and you'll find yourself in a minimally decorated white room. A really, really white room at that. There are four long communal tables with pretty uncomfortable stools. "Organic decor" at its best?

Story Deli has 11 pizzas with limited wine options (one red, two whites) and one lager offering. Non-alcoholic options include coffee, tea, spring water and various soft drinks. For dessert there's a mixed berry cheesecake, brownie and six different flavours of ice cream. I should mention that all pizzas cost £17 each - that's a whopping $32 CDN for one pizza. ONE pizza. And bare in mind that you'll need at least one pizza each (damn that light, wafer-thin crust). Remember to stop by the ATM too because no credit or debit allowed. Cash is king here.

On top of the menu reads "served with a few leaves of rocket, freshly grated parmesan, a little roasted red pepper & olive oil" (rocket = arugula). With the four of us we ordered four different pizzas to share. It was the perfect amount of food for lunch.

Tomato passata, paremsan & parma ham served with a big heap of rocket, freshly grated parmesan, a little roasted red pepper, olive oil, fresh buffalo mozzarella & balsamic cream

Garlic roasted aubergine, goat's cheese, roasted sweet red onion, mascarpone, basil olive oil, parmesan, oregano & balsamic cream

Baby spinach, garlic, spicy sausage, egg parmesan, garlic, a pinch of nutmeg & a little crushed birds eye chili served with freshly grated parmesan, olive oil & sweet chili sauce

 Smashed tomatoes, tomato passata, buffalo mozzarella, basil oil & basil pesto

All four pizzas have two things in common: 1) An extremely thin and crispy crust that's ever so slightly burnt. It's so thin that it's almost see through, 2) A copious amount of fresh, delicious organic ingredients piled high, all finished with cheese shavings with heaps of arugula and strands of roasted red pepper. The meats are perfectly savoury with its flavour enriched by sweet chili sauce one one and balsamic cream on another. Every pizza I had that day was earthy and flavourful, rustic yet inventive. We all inhaled it.

Here. Take a closer look at the base with beautifully puffed-up crust blisters. It is so thin it almost doesn't exist! Put the slicer through and that's when the cracking starts...what you get from slicing the thinnest and crispiest pizza ever.

To my surprise I was still able to bend the cracker-thin crust without it breaking! Mind blown. From looking at the pizza I thought there would be zero give or bend to the wafer-thin crust but I was proven wrong. It seemed to me that if the crust was any thinner or crispier it would break, making this the perfect, Story Deli pizza base. I was in love.

A photo of Hollingworth taking orders for the couple sitting beside us. He was the only person working that day so he had to take orders and make pizza. He told us when we walked in that he has help coming but the pizzas will take longer than usual. We assured him that it's fine. 

Personally I think the pizzas at Story Deli are more like flatbreads, an extremely thin and crispy flatbread. It’s not Neapolitan and it’s not New York style, it’s Story Deli style! At the same time I wont' take offense either if they continue to call it a pizza as I'm not a pizza purist or anything. Call it pizza, call it flatbread, call it cracker, I don't care.... whatever Hollingworth's creation is I loved it and that's the only thing that matters to me. I'll urge anybody visiting London to stop by Story Deli and give it a try. Yeah, I know £17 a pizza is really steep but I'm telling you now that I'll go back to Story Deli in a heart beat. They can take me money any time.