The Soho House Group’s latest venue is stylish and trendy enough to keep the Shoreditch crowd happy and homey and friendly enough to succeed as a pizzeria.
Located in the Tea Building, a former Lipton tea factory and most recently the site of the T Bar before its move to Houndsditch, Pizza East still has a very purposeful warehouse feel. The entrance (guarded by a bouncer in the later hours, lest passers-by still think T Bar is on the site) is up a few concrete stairs. Once through the doors, though, it becomes much more warm and welcoming. Whilst still keeping its industrial edge (think exposed ceiling fittings and paint-flecked concrete pillars), the warm woods and small touches like checked cloth napkins add a feeling of Italian old school authenticity.
The venue is large and there are several different areas, from the communal wooden table in the corner, surrounded by Italian wines and produce, to the open kitchen and the square green and white tiled bar in the centre of the vast space. There are several long tables in the main dining area with benches made up of individual interlocking stools, plus tables for two with banquette seating along one wall and circular tables spread throughout the venue. It all seems very Manhattan, whilst still being very East London.
Staff are very friendly and helpful, with some of the staff having moved over from Shoreditch House. They’re all well trained on the menu, so no matter who you pull over with a question you can be sure of a correct, concise answer. The crowd is more of the glam East London scene than the scruffy hipsters you can find in the area, and by 8pm, it’s packed. The music is great, with upbeat classics from the likes of Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones and the Jackson 5 – a bit of a change from the minimal techno of T Bar.
Pizza East’s menu is printed on a single sheet, with food on one side and drinks on the other. Prices vary, and you can get a main course priced at anything from £6 to £15. Starters are tapas style and it’s suggested to have a few before moving on to your main. They’re divided up into categories of cold, baked and fried, and there’s also a selection of meats and cheeses, served antipasto style on a plank of wood. There are six meats and six cheeses on the list, priced from £4 to £5, although choices vary depending on what’s available and you can get a board of three choices for £11. Prosciutto (£4), which on a recent occasion was from San Daniele, is thinly sliced and not too salty, with a melt-in-the-mouth texture.
Sicilian aubergine (£5) has been fried and sliced into wedges and arrives looking almost like a trio of thick, fat chips. The crisp outer layer and sweet and sour topping of orange, balsamic vinegar and chilli are a good combination, with the blend of flavours tasting almost like something you’d find in a pan-Asian restaurant. Sheep’s milk ricotta bruchetta (£6), from the cold options, consists of two pieces of bread dressed with honeycomb and ricotta cheese. The cheese is soft and delicate, and the honeycomb is melted over it, almost like a jam, balancing the savoury flavour of the cheese well. Flecks of sea salt keep it from being too sweet. A trio of lamb meatballs are large, good quality and well cooked. The tomato sauce they’re served with is rich but not too overwhelming, standing up nicely to the herby flavour of the lamb.
For mains, there’s a choice of more than 10 pizzas, plus a few salads and dishes from Pizza East’s wood oven. Pizzas range in price from £6 to £13 and contain everyday options like margherita, plus slightly more interesting choices: think veal meatballs with prosciutto, sage, lemon, parsley and cream; clams, tomato, oregano, garlic, chilli flakes and pecorino; or potato, garlic, rosemary, fontina and parmesan cheese. A pizza made with duck sausage, artichokes, parmesan and boschetto al tartufo (a soft cheese made with a blend of sheep’s milk, cow’s milk and truffles) is certainly unusual and well worth trying. The duck has the consistency of ground beef but with a much spicier, richer flavour, and the artichoke leaves add a subtle taste. It would be nice if there was a bit of lemon or something tangy to add variety to the creamy cheese, but the crisp, puffy, airy crust is perfect. A sea bass fillet (£15) is presented on top of a bed of steamed spinach, pulped butternut squash and broccoli florets. The crisply grilled skin of the sea bass gives way to the fish’s delicate meat, whilst the dressing is sharp and slightly bitter, offsetting the sweetness of the squash.
A choice of about six puddings range from £5 to £6 and include a fig cornmeal cake, orchard fruit deep dish pie, hot cinnamon doughnuts with Valrhona chocolate, a lemon pot and a trio of gelato. The latter is a good choice if you’ve gone a bit overboard on the mains, as it’s light but still satisfying and well worth the £4. Flavours include interesting combinations like a zesty, icy quince and grapefruit, an indulgent, darkly rich chocolate and mint and an intriguing lemon buttermilk, which has a buttery consistency and a salty and sweet flavour. Another option is the salted chocolate caramel tart (£5), which is a stunning slice of sticky gooey toffee tart with a sprinkle of sea salt on top and a pool of whipped cream on the side. It has a dense, cocoa-rich topping and a caramelised biscuit base, and the salt is something a bit different – it might be brushed off the top by some diners, but it’s definitely an attention-grabbing flavour.
The wines on offer are nearly all Italian, with a few bottles from the Western US – Oregon, Washington and California – as a nod to the American influence on the menu. There are a choice of six whites, six reds and one rose by the glass and 500ml carafe, priced from £4 to £9 a glass and £10 to £20 a carafe. Bottles start at a nicely priced £17 and hit £47 for a Californian white and £85 for a Tuscan red. Champagne and sparkling wine ranges from £29 to £85 a bottle.
The most interesting thing about Pizza East’s drinks list is that they have prosecco and wine on tap. The prosecco on tap is a Brut NV, and according to the staff the only difference is that it’s slightly less bubbly than if it had come from the bottle. Three wines are also on tap, a white Trebbiano 08 (£4 a glass and £10 a carafe) and a red and a rose Sangiovese (also £4 a glass and £10 a carafe). Although Sangiovese experts might break out in a cold sweat at the thought of the Italian wine coming out of the tap, unless you’re a connoisseur you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. The red has a lovely brambly flavour with hints of spice. If you’d rather stick to the bottle, though, a glass of Viognier Cline California 07 (£7 a glass and £19 a carafe) is sweet and medium-bodied, with a pleasant honey flavour.
The Last Word
The food is impressive and you’ll want to come back to try more of the interesting, inventive menu, but also because you just can’t help but feel at home.