Pizza. Whatever the question is, the answer is pizza. Hungry? Pizza. Sad? Pizza… Realising that almost every food review you’ve ever written has revolved around only Asian food? Pizza! I love the stuff. Whether it’s from a small authentic Restaurante, a popular chain around every corner or a takeaway from the local shop, I love it. And what’s more – it’s not only great from every restaurant; it’s great in every variety. That doughy base is essentially a vessel to carry almost any wonderful flavour you can think of – a bit like the gifts on Santa’s sleigh or the pools on a cruise ship. Some, including myself, are partial to some meat on a pizza. Others like fish. Plenty love vegetables. Vegan? No problem! Gluten free? More the merrier. Pizza is the nation’s sweetheart and we all know it (sorry to break it to you, Italy).
When we arrived at London Bridge Station, I knew what we were looking for, but I didn’t know where we were going to find it. Thanks to the sky’s sudden downpour, we couldn’t meander up Borough High Street wistfully as planned until arriving upon a destination in no rush at all. Instead we found ourselves trapped under a doorway – it was so torrential that we didn’t know what would happen first: the rain would stop or Noah’s ark would float by. “Pizzeria London Bridge”, I googled. No luck – only one place nearby but with queues of eager lunchers spilling out the door (the main difference between ourselves and these eager lunchers being that they had umbrellas, or at the very least a hood). While we toyed with the idea of running through the flooded streets with our sodden trainers to find the nearest Google result a few roads away, I thought how perfect it would be if I were to simply look across the road and find a modest, bespoke, Italian pizzeria before my very eyes. Wishful thinking? I thought so too, until suddenly the dark clouds parted just enough to let the sun shine down on Zad Restaurante, a small blue doorway with a sign reading “Authentic Italian Pizza & Pasta”. (I don’t think the sun actually shone at all but that’s how my short-term memory has chosen to portray this symbolic moment).
We walked into the restaurant to be greeted instantly under a dangling shelf of condiments and wine glasses. The larger tables were empty – it was lunchtime – and so the design of the furniture was easy to see. Unlike the typical patterned tablecloths you might expect to find in an Italian Pizzeria, the larger tables were incredibly modern with a light wooden finish and matching benches rather than chairs. The smaller tables had a darker colour, giving the furniture a generally monochrome feel to match the alternating grey shades of the brick wall. The other end of the room hosted a large pizza oven and chef, and was painted a deep burgundy that was complemented by the rose-gold lanterns hanging from the ceiling. I enjoyed the contrast on either sides of the restaurant between the grey shades and deep colours, as though drawing our attention to the fact that the food is created so close by. It provided a sense of intimacy, as if someone had torn down the walls separating the kitchen and the restaurant.
I often (boldly) ponder that one of the easiest things about having an attractive restaurant must surely be the menu design. A classy menu can be created with the same budget as one that looks cheap and unattractive. For example, a menu with a simple and consistent font on a white piece of paper costs the same amount to make as one with chunky writing on a sheet with an unappealing colour. I liked the design of the drinks menu at Zad: a faded white piece of paper attached to a wooden clipboard (I don’t know if this was intentional or for convenience but thought it had a nice style). The food menu, on the other hand, had a disappointing appearance when compared with the beautiful interior of the restaurant: bold white writing on an olive green folded page.
After this very small bump in the road, we ordered a glass of South African Sauvignon Blanc for £6.00 – a very reasonable price for an area as prestigious as Borough High Street. I recently participated in a wine-tasting course as I wanted to be able to describe wine more eloquently when recommending a restaurant instead of going on a wing and a prayer. So, tilting the wine glass against a white napkin as instructed during the course (and probably looking a bit strange while doing it), I could see that the wine I’d ordered at Zad was a fairly deep buttery colour, putting it at a “medium-bodied yellow”. If you’re more of a Sauvy than a Pinot (let’s face it, most of us are one of the two) you might have found New Zealand Sauv has quite a light, palatable flavour rather than being overly fruity or acidic. You might also agree that a Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa often tastes completely different from one made in New Zealand (unsurprisingly, as they’re made in different places entirely – as pointed out by my wine-tasting tutor. Money well spent.) Overall, the wine at Zad was quite acidic but tasty nonetheless.
I was stumped when choosing my pizza for a while. Not because I couldn’t find anything I liked, but because I could have quite happily devoured any of the options. First I spotted a Capricciosa, smouldering at me with its artichokes and ham from across the page. Then I was distracted by an handsome Diavola in the other corner, smiling its spicy salami grin. Just as I was eyeing up a Nocerina and its truffle oil, something stopped me in my tracks. One of my favourite words in the world. N’Duja.
I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to completely indulge in my love of N’Duja in my reviews. I’m hopelessly devoted to, madly in love with, crazy about that spicy, spreadable pork. Vegetarians, look away. Carnivores, walk with me. Let me take you back in time to Spilinga, a small town in Calabria, Italy, where ground pork is being kneaded with Calabrian chilli, and then smoked and rested for months. If you love spicy soft meat, you’ll love this. Since first tasting it, I have used it in a variety of cooking. It dissolves perfectly into pasta sauces or can be delicately placed on a piece of celery with some gorgonzola. But, of course, my favourite place to find it is on a pizza and so I couldn’t believe my luck when Zad gave me the chance. In the end I ordered the Napolitana (£9.40) which offered mozzarella, anchovies, capers and black olives on a tomato base, and to top it all off I asked to add pepperoni and N’Duja (at only £1 each). It was absolutely amazing. The saltiness of the anchovies and capers waltzed perfectly in time with the spicy sweetness of the N’Duja and pepperoni. The pizza base itself was cooked through well enough that it was slightly crispy yet still soft, and there was enough crust to enjoy but not so much that it took up too much space in lieu of the base and its toppings.
My family and I were discussing just the other day what our favourite meal or restaurant is, and after a long conversation we came to the conclusion that a good meal isn’t just about the food you eat or where it’s located. It’s who you’re with, or how hungry you were that day. It’s how friendly the staff were and how long they took to serve you. There are so many variables that combine to create an unforgettable experience in a restaurant. The stars aligned with all of these elements for me when I visited Zad, and I’ll definitely be going back. With an umbrella this time.
Words, Georgie Clifford