10 dishes you should try right now at Pizza East (that aren’t pizza)

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We ignore the popular wood-fired staple in favour of seasonal specials, including mackerel, Jerusalem artichokes, chargrilled cauliflower and salt-baked salmon


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1. Smoked swordfish, salmoriglio

Delicate, fragrant, melt-in-the-mouth. Photo: London Belongs To Me (LBTM)
Delicate, fragrant, melt-in-the-mouth. Photo: London Belongs To Me (LBTM)
We always quite like the fact that the menu at Pizza East doesn’t explain Italian terms or dishes, sparking interaction with the person serving. Salmoriglio is one such word that may puzzle many diners, and while it sounds like a slippery shellfish, it’s nothing more scary than a tangy sauce made of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and chopped herbs; in short, a southern speciality. And its acidity cuts through the richness of the swordfish beautifully.

2. Wild boar, polenta, cima di rapa

An unexpected hit: slow-cooked to perfection. Photo: LBTM
An unexpected hit: slow-cooked to perfection. Photo: LBTM
Probably the happiest discovery in our recent visits. The boar, cooked slowly for three hours, is meltingly tender, with a fiery kick. Polenta is crisp-fried and light. Cima di rapa are simply turnip tops, a popular vegetable in Italy, especially in the south, full of iron, adding colour and bite. The overall effect of this combination is greater than its appearance and the sum of its parts. Simply a dish we want to lick clean.

3. Mackerel, Jerusalem artichokes, bull’s blood

Light fish, rich 'chokes. Photo: PR
Light fish, rich ‘chokes. Photo: PR
This oily fish high in omega-3 fatty acids is still sniffed at by some conservative diners for being too “fishy”. But cooked correctly, it’s buttery soft, its skin adding a crackle of briny flavour. And like mackerel, Jerusalem artichokes are a magic ingredient that seem to transcend their humble origins, adding a velvety, deeply savoury texture. (Of course they’re not really artichokes, and have nothing to do with Jerusalem, being an import from North America.) Meanwhile, bull’s blood is nothing more sinister than a superfood salad leaf, from the beetroot family.

4. Pork belly, aoili + Purple fir potatoes, taleggio

Cosy on a plate. Photo: PR
Cosy on a plate. Photo: PR
A splendid looking main, don’t you think? This is one platter that’s truly big enough to share, and probably the least healthy of our choices. January-defying curls of tender belly with a garlicky sauce are in fact out-shined by an accompaniment that’s unutterably decadent: purple fir potatoes sliced wafer thin, basking in a creamy dauphinoise, and smothered with taleggio cheese. If you’re a veggie, skip the pork and just order this.

5. Roots, freekah, yoghurt

A mix of the Med and British winter. Photo: LBTM
A mix of the Med and British winter. Photo: LBTM
A simple, stimulating light meal. Parsnips and heritage carrots, roasted al dente, perch on a pile of freekah, a cereal made from green wheat and packed with fibre (an ancient Arabian dish more commonly found in Palestinian and Egyptian cuisines). Served with a generous dollop of yoghurt, it’s only £7 so order it with a tap water for a virtuous, well-priced vegetarian lunch.

6. Salt baked salmon

Fish of biblical proportions. Photo: LBTM
Fish of biblical proportions. Photo: LBTM
Wander past the wood-fired oven at Pizza East and you’ll more often than not see a whole baked salmon lounging on the counter. Salt-baking makes a tight seal with the crust forming a ‘mini oven’ around the fish, therefore keeping the flavours of the aromatics inside. A rotating choice of daily sides will accompany it: we plumped for a robust cavolo nero, whose pleasantly tangy bitterness flavour is softened by roasted almonds.

7. Raw beets, carrot, ricotta

Colourful and enviably good for you. Photo: LBTM
Colourful and enviably good for you. Photo: LBTM
You may not quite realize just how much quality – and healthy – vegetarian food is on the menu. Yes, there’s creamy burrata by the kilo if you want it, but there are also intriguing salads, like quinoa, blood orange and pistachio, and plates of brussels with chestnut. This combo of earthy beets and carrots wrestling in strands, topped with a good dollop of the classic Italian curd cheese, is just the right side of sensible.

8. Cauliflower, salsa verde

Attractive and delicious. Photo: PR
Attractive and delicious. Photo: PR
There must be more vitamin C in this dish of brassicas than a basket of oranges. Thick slices – or “steaks” – of cauliflower are chargrilled alongside its attractively fractral counterpart romanesco (milder in flavour, but crunchier too), and drizzled with the classic sauce of garlic, capers, gherkins, anchovies and herbs. Even if the thought of a plate of cauliflower makes you heave, try this.

9. Peanut butter ganache and blood orange

Pretty on a dark day. Photo: LBTM
Pretty on a dark day. Photo: LBTM
Ganache is made by heating cream, then adding whatever is desired. This “limited edition” seasonal pudding is light, buttery and nutty, with the pleasantly acidic tang of fruit. And did you know blood orange – the primary orange grown in Italy – gets its distinct colour from ripening when temperatures are low at night, as in the Mediterranean autumn and winter?

10. Salted caramel chocolate tart

Don't even begin to call it sinful. Photo: PR
Don’t even begin to call it sinful. Photo: PR
We often forget about the dessert menu, especially on Keyring Tuesdays when we become a little over-excited by the 50% off cocktails, wine and food. But a recent foray into the sweets over the winter months has quickly made this menu staple a real favourite. Buttery pastry, dark chocolate, sweet caramel and a hint of salt – perfect with an macchiato. Or, if you’re a sinner, perhaps an espresso martini – or two.

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Find Pizza East at Highgate Studios, 79 Highgate Road, London NW5 1TL. Antipasti are priced £3-£9, vegetable dishes and salads £5-£9, pizza £8-£14 and mains £9-£17. More info on the menu and prices on their website

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