Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Where is London's greatest gluten-free pizza?

When you find out you have to go gluten-free, the image that immediately swims into your head is a crispy, cheese-laden pizza, spinning off into the vortex, never to be nibbled again.

Pizza is without a doubt the most adored (traditionally) gluten-packed food. When I was first diagnosed and told to cut the wheat, my tears were 80% related to pizza. And were it not for the following culinary heroes, my relationship with pizza would have been cut off way too soon (though maybe I'd fit into those old jeans).

If there was an award for innovation in flour blends, or expert pie rolling – a Dough-bel Prize if you will – the pizzerias that follow would all deserve a nomination. But where is London's absolute best gluten-free pizza? I popped a few buttons – and enlisted the help my wheat-eating taste tester – to find out.

1. Pizza Da Vinci


  • Vibe: so you miss calling up for takeaway greasy enough to soak into the box? These guys deliver. Literally.
  • Location: Battersea and around
  • Gluten-free credentials: loses points for spelling it 'gulten' in the online booking system. Come on guys, how hard is it?

So tomatoes, fresh herbs, seems nutritious right? Um, why is there mozzarella grease pooling in my lap? Image © Anita Isalska
So tomatoes, fresh herbs, seems nutritious right? Um, why is there mozzarella
grease pooling in my lap? Image © Anita Isalska
In those (drunken) moments of weakness, gluten-free folk miss the spontaneity of dialling up for a grease-laden pizza, so heavy with mozzarella that it's sinking in the middle. For south Londoners, Pizza Da Vinci to the rescue. Their gluten-free pizza has generous toppings but way overdoes the salt (or wait, is that just what junk food tastes like? Hard to know when you're a coeliac.) The base has a distinctive corn flavour and is incredible chewy. If your jaw can take the workout, this is a guilty pleasure, and a waistband-stretching one at that. No, you don't need dessert.

Wheaty says... "Very close to the standard greasy takeaway pizza. The main difference is the corny base, which can become chewy as the pizza cools down."

Final score: 5/10 – not winning on flavour or trust with this one.

2. Stingray Cafe


  • Vibe: unfussy interior, friendly staff and a huge pizza oven. Feels like home.
  • Location: oof norf London, in Tufnell Park
  • Gluten-free credentials: these guys get gluten-free, serve Celia beer and they have cake. All the points.

Look into my eggs. You are feeling sleeeeepy. No wait, that's  just the Celia taking effect. Image © Anita Isalska
Look into my eggs. You are feeling sleeeeepy. No wait, that's
just the beer taking effect. Image © Anita Isalska 

Well hello, what's this? An expertly kneaded Italian-style thin crust pizza? Stone-baked for smoky flavour, served with as many salads, gluten-free pasta options, side dishes and gluten-free drink choices as you can cram into your greedy belly? Walking into Stingray, a homey little hideaway in north London, it's hard not to feel a little bit spoiled.

Wheaty says... "Their GF pizzas are huge. I do recall them being a bit salty but that might have been from ordering the anchovy, olive and caper special..."

Final score: 8/10 – I love Stingray so much I keep trying to think of excuses to come to NW5.

3. Pizza Express


  • Vibe: the coeliac's greatest enemy turned gluten-free best friend. This chain did a total 180 after branching out into the gluten-free market last year.
  • Location: throw a ball of dough in London and you'll hit one. Really, there are that many.
  • Gluten-free credentials: these guys walk the walk, with Coeliac UK accreditation in their menus, gluten-free flour used to dust surfaces across their kitchens to prevent cross-contamination, and reassuringly competent staff. Bravo.
Images © Anita Isalska
Wheaty, nomming through Pizza Express' menu - a common sight for
Madame Free-From. So common, these pictures could be in any one
of about six branches. Images © Anita Isalska 

With so many independent restaurants moving and shaking London's gluten-free scene I'm reluctant to include chains in this round-up. But Pizza Express offering gluten-free choices is a total game-changer in the UK. Pizza Express are loud, proud and accountable when it comes to producing delicious gluten-free pizzas. The menu is clear, the staff know their stuff, the choice has stomach-stretching breadth. That said, the bases aren't the best around: they're a little dry and noticeably smaller than the wheat-based versions they serve. Which is just as well because Pizza Express have the ubiquity, the familiar brand, and now the gluten-free market; if they nail the pizza dough recipe, they pretty much own our souls.

Wheaty says... "Their GF base is quite different from their regular base, but it's also very good (although a bit small). From this line-up, it's probably the base which is the most different from standard [wheaty] pizza. But Pizza Express have embraced the whole gluten-free thing, great when you're out and need a no-fuss meal."

Final rating: 6/10 – love the choice, love the ease, don't love the pizza base.

4. Rossopomodoro 

 

  • Vibe: classic Neapolitan pizzas served to a backdrop of murals with sexy Italian quotes. Oh dio!
  • Location: this chain has outlets in Camden, Covent Garden, Wandsworth, Notting Hill...
  • Gluten-free credentials: this place is an Italian export, Italians are great at gluten-free, yet only few of the pizzas have toppings they trust to be fully senza glutine. Does not compute.

Gluten-free pizza at Rossopomodoro in Wandsworth, Greater London. Mozzarella, tomato, basil...sometimes, simple is best. Pooling saliva: not pictured.  Image © Anita Isalska
Mozzarella, tomato, basil...sometimes, simple is best. Pooling saliva: not pictured.
Image © Anita Isalska
When I gazed on those little islands of buffalo mozzarella, bobbing stickily on a fresh tomato passata, my mouth watered. The first bite tasted so authentic, it was like Italy had wandered up to my table, naked but for a red white and green flag, warbling O Sole Mio. The pizza bases are as delicious as you'd expect (you can taste the musky zing of virgin olive oil in the base) and the only gluten-free clue is that the inside of the base looks a brighter white than their wheaty offerings. That said, the range of pizzas offered to gluten-free diners is very  limited, only a handful from their extensive menu. Seriously Rossopomodoro, what are you putting on that Quattro Formaggio to make it glutenous?

Wheaty says... "I had high hopes but I was slightly disappointed. I can't remember why. The base was good, with only a very slight corn flavour, to the point where I wasn't sure whether it was GF or not!"

Final score: 7/10 – great base, but a real missed opportunity with the limited menu.

5. Pappa Ciccia


  • Vibe: romantic Italian eatery that just so happens to do all its pizzas gluten-free. Sorry, I just drooled.
  • Location: Fulham, south London
  • Gluten-free credentials: GF pastas and pizzas, cautious staff but no desserts? Pappa, you're breaking my heart.
Not just because of the Campari, this has to be the best.
Image © Anita Isalska

Where did you come from, Pappa Ciccia? All bedecked with flowers, quaint Italian touches and cosy restaurant fittings, this place is quite the charmer. But on to the pizzas: the staff seem accustomed to reassuring their customers that yep, there's no mistake, this is genuinely gluten-free. Everything from the tomato sauce to the just-crunchy-enough artichokes is beautifully prepared, and the stone-baked pizza bases have all the volcanic charring and yielding chewiness you'd hope for from an authentic Italian pizza.

Wheaty says... "I really did wonder if the base was gluten free! Lovely and very authentic feel."

Final rating: 9/10 – judging purely by the pizza, this is head and shoulders above the rest.

11 comments:

  1. You know how whenever anyone on the interweb makes a list of something, *someone* inevitably comes along and says "you missed X" . . my goodness that is a ridiculous practice.

    But you totally missed Cotto's Italian! Wait wait, I'm not being obnoxious, what I'm doing is saying you really must revisit all these great pizza places *and* Cottos in order to, you know, be all scientific about the ratings.

    Drool over the pizza options here http://www.italiancotto.co.uk/ItalianCOTTOmenu2015.pdf

    Oh, and if you don't revisit them all, well I might just have to do that ;-)

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  4. Thank you for the tip Ben! We went and the bread was amazing!! Pizza was pretty good. Owners were lovely.

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    1. Fantastic! Thanks for letting me know you visited and enjoyed it Monica :-)

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