So you’re still going despite lockdown 3.0?
Indeed we are. People are now coming to get their exercise on South Bank and nearly everywhere is closed so we’re fairly busy. We have a street food stall and one of our Piaggio Ape pizza vans in front of the restaurant. We can’t sell beer now and we’d rather have the whole restaurant open but it’s going okay.
What’s on the menu?
It’s pretty tight. We offer Margherita; Bianca Pie (ricotta with slow-cooked caramalised onions and parmesan); Smashed Mamma’s Boy Meatballs (beef and sausages meatballs with marinara sauce); Double Pepperoni and Chilli Honey; and Mushroom and Truffle. The Margherita is £4.50 and we top out at £6. The slices are huge, it’s equivalent to half a Neapolitan pizza.
Has your dough recipe and cooking technique changed?
Yes very much so. The flour mix is different. We’re still using Caputo (which is made in Naples) but we’re blending the one we normally use with one that’s designed for New York-style pizza. It’s a hybrid dough that is halfway between Neapolitan pizza and New York pizza. Unlike Neapolitan pizza the slice needs to hold its own weight, which requires a dough with more gluten.
The pizzas are massive - what sort of oven are you using?
It’s a huge electric double deck oven, a totally different beast to what we use at the regular Pizza Pilgrims. We bake at a lower temperature, about 375°C. It’s a slower cook that gives you more bite and crunch. The pizzas are one metre by 30cm (pizza al metro) and - once cooked - are dressed and then sliced into zigzags to create big triangles. The reheating of the slice is a really important part of New York pizza because it gives a bit of crunch on the bottom.
Tell us about your creative process for Slice...
I totally stole an idea from the guys at Dishoom. They write long essays about the characters that own the restaurants they build. We did the same, creating a man called Giuseppe that moved from Naples to New York in 1994 because he loved the city. He started going to New York slice joints and eventually got the keys to an old bar with a load of arcade machines in it and set up a New York slice joint through the eyes of a Neapolitan pizza chef. It’s a coming together of what I believe are the world’s two great pizza cultures. We've actually been thinking about doing a pizza by the slice concept for a while.
So why was now the time for Slice?
When we started Pizza Pilgrims Neapolitan pizza was quite new. We were educating people on what Neapolitan pizza is. Now Neapolitan pizza is established it feels like the right time to look at something else. I love eating pizza by the slice and I don’t think there’s enough of it in London. I think New York pizza and the pop culture that surrounds it is brilliant - we spent a lot time in the city when we were researching our latest book (the comprehensive Pizza, published by Quadrille) - but I love the idea of making it using Italian principles and ingredients.
Tell us about the site...
Getting the space has been a total whirlwind. We were approached by Southbank Centre to write a pitch for a 12-month pop-up. We worked day and night on it and five days later they agreed to give us the site (a former YO!). Five weeks later we were open, which is insane. We've done a basic refit that required an investment of about £65k. It's a smash and grab pizza joint but we're proud of it, especially our graffiti mural which features Jabba The Pizza Hut.
What’s the reception been like?
We opened in the run up to Christmas and were totally slammed with virtually no press, which is encouraging. Clearly this week hasn't been so great but we're still been serving a fair few pizzas. It's a nice fit for South Bank as the area attracts a diverse crowd and everyone eats pizza. It helps that the price point is approachable - we've become an instant hit with the kids from the skatepark.
Do you think you might do more?
Right now it's a really fun experiment but it's certainly a possibility. The idea for Slice was originally as more of a smaller neighbourhood type thing. Clearly a former YO! in South Bank with 80 covers inside and 40 covers outside next to Pret and Wagamama is not that but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. The truth is we're not sure, it's hardly been standard circumstances but we're feeling really positive about it.