Restaurant review: We try out Honest Pizza Company
153 Stranmillis Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9066 6100
Belfast loves its pizzas. There are more than 30 pizzerias within one square mile of the city's south side alone. But what is it about something so simple that we love so much? After all, it's just a dough base, a spoonful of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of cheese. The trick is to present and market this culinary equivalent of nursery school ABC bricks as something to do with lifestyle; immediately gratifying and which presses all our happy buttons: crispy, salty, tangy and cheesy. Oh, and possibly nutritious.
And then there is the personal preference factor: Domino's use a sandy sprinkle on their bases, which keeps your fingers dry when eating with your hands; PizzaExpress get very creative, inviting top chefs to patent a pizza for them and Pizza Hut democratises the experience entirely by making it as popular as hamburger chains.
We've moved on from ham and pineapple, anchovies and olives, or pepperoni. Now, you can get pizzas with rocket salad on them, or smoked salmon, or, and I swear I ordered this recently, chicken tikka masala. So, it was only a matter of time before a pizza with hipster appeal would be created.
Step forward the Honest Pizza Company, with its 48-hour-matured sourdough base, its weekly imports of cheese and salami from Italy and its Irish-sourced pork, bacon, chicken, fruit and vegetables.
HPC has a distinct selling-point, which helps it stand out from the rest. It claims to be Belfast's first and only genuine sourdough pizza maker using real sourdough starter and "the finest Italian flour designed specifically for sourdough".
They go to great lengths to let you know all about how the gluten breaks down and helps create an unmatchable flavour, resulting in a pizza that is easy to digest.
The hipster appeal is reinforced by their determination to ban wedges and chicken wings, or anything frozen, or nasty.
Fancying myself as an ageing hipster, I am immediately drawn to this kind of talk. In the hope that it's not all blather, I arrange a Father's Day takeaway pizza for dinner for the five of us and place the order by phone.
So far so good: telephone experiences with other pizza firms have been more frantic and rushed, often making it hard to explain specific details and desires. HPC reacts calmly, helpfully and unusually courteously.
The Deliveroo strike range doesn't quite stretch to our house, so 10 minutes later I'm at their door on Stranmillis Road. The little cavern is all white tiles, bright lights and tastefully arranged sacks of double O flour from Naples, the city which calls itself the spiritual home of the pizza.
It is a cosy tunnel of a place, with the ovens at the very back and the worktops just behind the imposing marble client counter. Two cooks are cooking, leaving the young flame-haired guy at the front to communicate the full might of Honest Pizza Company's exacting brand values to the customer. He carries it off well.
The boxes are handed over, transaction completed (cash only - you were warned) and I'm soon back with the steaming 12-inch contents.
There's a Piggylicious (hold the pineapple) with ham, pulled pork, bacon and Roquito chillies and coriander. The first striking feature is the tomato sauce. This can be the downfall, or glory, of a pizza. If it's too sweet, too thick, too thin, or flavourless, you'll not be happy. In this case, Honest got it spot on in terms of proportions and volumes.
The meats are generously present, but not stupidly overloaded and the chillies are hot, but not painfully so (mother-in-law ordered this and wouldn't enjoy anything too high octane - she's happy).
On the table are a pepperoni pizza, a split chicken and Parma ham half-and-half and two plain and simple Margheritas. The Margheritas provide the benchmark and, at £6.95, this must qualify as one of the best value-to-quality ratios in the city. Also, the delicate sourdough flavour shines through.
In the other pizzas, the warm, musky comforting sourdough flavour is largely lost.
However, in the Margherita, the Honest claims are validated.
Accessories, like the Atomic Garlic Bread, which features hot Sriracha sauce, provide entertainment and an interesting Latino dimension.
Honest Pizza Company is a welcome new player in the crowded field. Its location may be a challenge, but the offer is quality and instils desire for more. I'll be back.
Mozzarella garlic bread £3.95
Atomic garlic bread £3.95
12" Piggylicious £10.95
12" Papa Pepperoni £9.45
12" Margarita (x2) £13.90
Half-and-half ham/chicken £9.60
Ranch dip £0.75