It’s no secret that I’m a huge foodie. Anyone who knows me, or regularly reads this blog, knows how obsessed with it I am and that I have pretty strong views on what I like and don’t like. That being said, a recent dining experience at Neighbourhood Pizza in Mt Hawthorn did bring to light a certain schizophrenia in my culinary tastes, that I sort of have multiple food-loving personalities if you will. When it comes to food and drink, Australia has always had a reputation for drawing on a wide range of influences and combining them with little regard for stuffy old world rules or established conventions. It’s a fantastic side-effect of our multicultural nation and there’s definitely a part of me that loves this. A white wine that had been put on oak and aged? Brilliant! Moroccan lamb burgers with kasundi relish and minty yoghurt sauce? Awesome! However, I have to admit that there’s also a more snobbish, purist (aka wanky) side of me that wants to eat food in as an authentic manner as possible, preferably in its country of origin surrounded by locals, but if not that then as close to the real deal as can be managed. Needless to say, these two sides of my split foodie personality can sometimes come in to conflict, and nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to the topic of pizza.
Firstly, I love the stuff, and what’s not to love right? Its food that is simple, tastes great and can be eaten with your hands no matter how pissed you may or may not happen to be. While the concept of making differently influenced, more gourmet pizzas is by no means a new thing, recent times have seen a rise in the number of places offering such Italian/world cuisine fusion creations. Judging by the menus of these establishments, what you can put on top of a pizza is limited only by your imagination, and they offer everything from tandoori chicken to spicy Mexican beef to Greek lamb and feta, and probably most things in between. Now while I think that this type of bold gastronomic creativity is definitely a good thing, when it comes to the humble pizza my purist side tends to win out. Perhaps it’s because I’ve done a fair bit of travelling in Italy (I know, I’m pretty cultured and awesome right?), perhaps it’s my Italian heritage or maybe it’s because I naturally tend to appreciate the more subtle art of effectively combining a few simple ingredients. Whatever the reason, nine times out of ten I’ll take a traditional pizza over a modern fusion creation, which is why my introduction to Neighbourhood Pizza last week was so exciting.
Located down an alleyway in the heart of Mt Hawthorn, it’s one of those great, unassuming places that, much like the Isla de Muerta in Pirates of the Caribbean, you kind of have to already know where it is to find it. Fortunately my guides for the evening (frequent partners in crime brother Tim and aunt Jen) knew exactly where to go so we headed in there on Wednesday night last week (which just happened to be Halloween, so any cobwebs you notice in the pictures are merely thematic decorations and not examples of a chronic lack of cleaning). Once in the doors I found it to be kind of an odd space, very open and minimalistic, with lots of exposed brick and wood, a pool table in one back corner and a vintage motorcycle propped up near some old pallets in the other. Yet for all its unconventionality, it had a great feel and worked really well, and it’s nice to find a place that hasn’t just crammed as much seating in as possible to maximise their profits.
Taking a seat down one end of a long trestle-like table, we perused the menu and were delighted to find that it was, for the most part, a simple, traditionally-based affair. There was the odd pineapple chunk, slice of jalapeno and bit of sweet potato to be fair, but the vast majority of offerings could be easily be served back in the mother country without causing any raised eyebrows (or eyebrow, depending on how much of a monobrowed they might happen to be). Being as that we weren’t that hungry at the time, we decided we’d just share two pizzas and went for a classic margarita (tomato base, buffalo mozzarella and fresh torn basil) and another with a tomato base, spicy salami, gorgonzola, flaked almonds and rocket. Simply put, they were literally slices of Italian heaven. The bases were perfectly thin and crispy, something that can only be properly achieved with good dough and a wood fired oven in my opinion. The simple elegance of the tomato, basil and mozzarella in the margarita was outstanding, while the stronger elements of spicy salami, gorgonzola and rocket all combined perfectly for a flavour that was bold yet not overcomplicated. With modern fusion pizzas I often find that there is too much going on, whereas here each ingredient was distinguishable, able to speak for itself and blend with those around it. Also, a whole heap of ingredients can lead to things getting pretty greasy and that awful, fatty, bloated feeling after one has indulged. Thankfully, the thin crust and restrained toppings on our Neighbourhood pizzas induced no such effects, and we left satisfied but not waddling out of the place.
Having a chat with one of the owners after our meal, I discovered that they were definitely inspired by Italian pizza making, and that as many of the ingredients as possible (tomatoes, olives, anchovies, proscuitto etc.) were imported from that most wonderful of boot-shaped countries. They also use real Italian buffalo mozzarella instead of the awful, grated muck that so often gets spread over pizza here, which I have to say was pretty damn exciting for a pizza snob such as myself. Pricing wise they range from $17 to $22, so not too bad really, and if you were willing to split a pizza and garlic bread with a friend you’re looking at around $15 for a meal, which is pretty damn good for food of this quality. Also, in keeping with the idea of cost effectiveness, Neighbourhood Pizza is BYO (with a tiny $2 per person corkage charge), so if you like a tipple with your food then I’d highly recommend taking a few decent bottles of red with you when you go. They also do gluten free bases for a $6 extra on request, so even you non-wheat eaters can get stuck in too!