What: A pizzeria in central Brighton that also incorporates a subterranean football pitch. On Ship Street, Pizza Pilgrims latest restaurant occupies the entirety of a three-storey building that was previously home to a cookware shop.
Who: Brothers Thom and James Elliot launched Pizza Pilgrims in 2012 having previously worked in the creative industries (older brother Thom in advertising and James in television). Initially a street food business, the now Imbiba-backed casual dining brand soon moved on to bricks and mortar and today operates 15 restaurants in London (plus two concessions) alongside a single regional site in Oxford.
The vibe: Like the rest of Pizza Pilgrim’s estate, the Brighton site is high-energy with a fun-loving look and feel. As befits a brand that has its roots in Naples - James cooked at a number of the Southern Italian city’s most famed pizzerias - the aesthetic is endearingly chaotic with tables built from reclaimed pallets, various artworks from local artists, retro light fittings, greenery cascading from old tomato sauce tins and the brand’s signature green-and-white-chequered tablecloths.
The food: Pizza Pilgrims Brighton offers the same menu as the majority of the rest of the estate (the group’s concessions have abridged menus, while Pizza Pilgrims Selfridges offers a more premium menu that is focused on British ingredients). Pizzas include margherita (£9.50); mushroom and truffle (£12.25); and smokey aubergine parm (£10.50), a riff on parmigiana di melanzane, while non-pizza dishes - all designed to share - including a Caprese salad made with burrata rather than mozzarella; artichokes fritti with white truffle dip; and mac and cheese balls. The restaurant’s gelato is provided by local favourite Boho Gelato.
And another thing: Pizza Pilgrims is the first restaurant that we know of that incorporates a football pitch, although Manchester’s Hotel Football - opened in 2015 - deserves a shout out for its rooftop pitch. The space isn’t quite big enough for an official five-a-side match but there’s ample room for three-a-side (or perhaps four in the case of younger players). The pitch can be booked out for parties for both grown-ups and kids, with prices for the latter starting at a competitive £15 per head for one hour’s hire inclusive of a pizza and a soft drink.
The Pilgrim’s progress: James and Thom Elliot’s second regional site is well placed to succeed
Brighton & Hove might just be the Neapolitan pizza capital of the UK. There are two home-grown chains - Fatto a Mano and VIP Pizza, which each have three locations in and around the city - plus one (soon to be two) Franco Manca restaurants, two Puerazzas and numerous indies.
That’s a lot of Neapolitan pizza for a city of around 300,000 people. While there’s no doubt Pizza Pilgrims is entering an extremely competitive market, the group is also bringing something new to the seaside city. For starters, its brand positioning differs from most of its competitors in that the restaurants are more of an expression of the personalities and backgrounds of its founders and pitched at a young, or at least youngish, customer base.
Alongside this, Pizza Pilgrims aims to offer more than just pizza, with most sites having a USP of some sort, often extracurricular activities such as arcade machines and foosball tables. The Brighton site’s subterranean football pitch picks up this idea and runs with it.
Another key difference between Pizza Pilgrims and its peers in the Neapolitan pizza space is that, while the pizza is authentic at its core, Naples is not the group’s sole inspiration. Options reference other aspects of pizza culture - for example there is a homage to PizzaExpress’s American Hot as well as a pizza that combines no fewer than eight different cheeses - and don’t necessarily carry combinations of toppings that traditionalists would see as being authentic (there was once even a pineapple one).
Another reason not to bet against Pizza Pilgrim’s second regional site is the strength of its location. The site is extremely prominent and in close proximity to a number of popular Brighton venues, not least The Ivy. Located in an Oxford shopping centre that has proved tricky for a number of operators, Pizza Pilgrim's debut regional site had a rocky start and has taken a lot of work to get right. By contrast, Pizza Pilgrim's most recent regional outing looks likely to bed in much quicker.