Neapolitan pizza is a delicate riot of flavour created in 500C fire that emerges steaming and ready to be gathered carefully into your mouth.
Chefs in Naples – the pizza capital of Italy and arguably the world – are famously guarded about sharing their methods.
But on meeting English brothers Thom and James Elliot it is easy to see how the exuberant duo managed to charm their way into the secret world to create brand Pizza Pilgrims .
It is five years since they served their first slices of pizza from a stall on Soho’s Berwick Street Market. They now have seven branches.
We are at their latest and largest to date in West India Quay where they excitedly show us around the Pizza Playground featuring a 70-seater terrace with Bocce ball pitch, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gaming area, a giant fussball table and a retro No Fear arcade game.
They proudly point out the giant Piaggio disco ball, decorated by their own hands, the pizza box art on the walls, chef cam and the ingredients ticker board inspired by Thom’s first trip to Canary Wharf.
“I came here thinking it wouldn’t be for us,” said the 33-year-old from Shepherds Bush.
“But I got off the train and thought it was amazing. You instantly feel like you are New York.
“And then walking across the bridge was like coming into an Italian piazza. And I just fell in love with the beautiful Grade I listed building.”
Inside is a reflection of the brother’s personalities with bright pizza wallpaper, Italian movie posters of Karate Kid II and Ghostbusters and lights made in the shape of giant Parmesan cheeses.
“We wanted to avoid that faux Italian thing,” said James, 31, from Brixton.
“We think people in Canary Wharf had high powered jobs but are the more young, fun version of the City slickers and will get our jokes.
“We want them to come across the bridge, take off their ties and have some fun.”
The food however is pure Italian tradition with most ingredients shipped in from Naples.
“The pizza is the thing,” said James. “We are always working to improve that and when it is really good then you can afford to have fun with the rest.”
It is their largest branch to date and their first bookable restaurant. The brothers say it is a “bit of a risk” but they like to embrace a challenge.
It as this carpe diem approach that saw them set off on their pizza pilgrimage in the first place.
James said: “We were in a pub one day and both had mundane jobs we hated, me in TV production and Thom in advertising, and it was what we call a five-pint idea.
“We had just been to see the guys at MeatLiquor when it was just a van in Peckham and I thought: ‘Wow, street food could be a thing’.
“We had wanted to work in restaurants before but the idea of that amount of investment was a bit of a stretch.”
They came up with the idea of a pizza street food and the next day Thom handed in his notice.
“I then realised how far we were from being ready to start out business so I had to go and get a job for Stannah stairlifts.”
But their enthusiasm prevailed and saw them then sink £1,500 into a pilgrimage across Italy in a tiny Piaggio van with a top speed of 20mph.
“As we travelled around trying all the food we got fatter and fatter and it was a tighter and tighter fit,” laughs James.
“It was very hard at first to get people to talk to us as Neapolitan chefs famously have a saying that you aren’t taught the recipe for pizza, you steal it.
“But we made a programme about our trip and having the camera crew really helped. As soon as you put a camera in an Italian’s face they want to tell you everything, five times.”
The secrets they learned were brought back and go into each of their pizzas which are made with Neapolitan flour and topped with ingredients such as portobello mushroom and truffle and smoked napoli.
They will also be expanding their friggitoria offering in West India Quay with deep fried artichoke hearts, calzone fritta, arancini and Italian mac’n’cheese on the menu.
“We aren’t Italian but we started this because we love pizza so much,” said James.
“We didn’t know anything about the business when we began but now we have such a great team around us, many who are from Italy, and we wouldn’t be here now without them.”
Diners can get free pizza in exchange for feedback until the end of Thursday, April 27. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the day, time and number of people. Spaces are limited and will be given on a first come first served basis.
From May 3-7 the restaurant in Hertsmere Road be offering 50% off food.
It will officially launch on May 8.
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