Late last month Homeslice opened a small restaurant in Covent Gardenoffering a tight menu of pizzas for £4 a slice or £20 for a whole pizza (six slices). Its selection of modish toppings – including ‘bone marrow, roasted spring onion and watercress’ – are announced on its Twitter feed each morning.
Hot on its heels, Berwick Street Market regular Pizza Pilgrims is set to open a restaurant on Soho’s Dean Street within the next few months.Still under development, brothers Thom and James Elliot and Louis Lillywhite’s inaugural restaurant will offer a menu of about eight Naples-inspired pizzas with simple toppings. Such is the profile of the Pizza Pilgrims brand, a cookbook detailing the early days of the business is published next month.
“We’re starting with a focused offering but we will hopefully expand it over time,” says Thom Elliot. “Pizza is a great thing to work with because you can seek out great produce, offer it at an everyday price-point and still get good GP.”
The openings intersect with significant activity and interest in the wider premium pizza market. Now backed by former Pizza Express chief executive David Page, Neapolitan pizza specialist Franco Manca is expanding at pace with four sites and long-term ambitions to go outside the capital.
“We need to get to 10 branches in London. Once we have that infrastructure we will absolutely be expanding outside the capital. The market is ready for us,” says founder Giuseppe Mascoli.
Late last year, pizza joint Voodoo Ray’s opened on Kingsland High Street in Dalston, east London, and PizzaLuxe is to unveil a site at Trinity Leeds in October following the success of its first unit at Westfield Stratford City.
Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney’s new Oblix restaurant half-way up The Shardwill also offer wood-fired pizza when it opens later this year.
Serial restaurant entrepreneur Luke Johnson is rumoured to be eyeing up the premium pizza delivery chain Firezza, which has 11 branches in London and has been valued at around £6m.
The gourmet pizza trend mirrors that of the gourmet burger movement:an emphasis on authenticity, significant specialisation and in some cases the creation of drinking-orientated late-night environments in the style of MeatLiquor.
Homeslice, for example, will offer good-value drinks with beers on tap and magnums of red wine on the table for customers to help themselves.
Generally, this new wave of pizzas are Naples-inspired but some operators are looking to New York for inspiration, where larger pizzas are served by the slice.
Conversely, the rise of these new highly-specialised and, in the main, authentic formats comes at a time when the national pizza players – including Pizza Express, Ask Italian and Strada – are expanding menus and in some cases moving away from traditional Italian pizza.
This article appeared in the April issue of Restaurant magazine. Subscribe here.