Bristol is becoming a hub of independently owned pizzerias, with a focus on sourdough. Often, they are run by the chef-owner, who has perfected the science of the sourdough pizza before training their team of bakers. When you're fortunate to live almost equidistant from two of the best pizzerias in Bristol - nay, in Britain - the difficulty lies in choosing which to visit. Bertha's or Pi Shop?
Yet, we recently realised, the beauty is that we don't have to choose. When both restaurants offer takeaway, why not order a pizza from each and see which we prefer?
What began as a piece of fun on a showery Sunday afternoon, soon looked more like a military operation. Detailed discussions ensued regarding how make sure both pizzas were ready at the same time, collected as soon as possible after each another and transported home as quickly as possible. In the interest of fairness, we decided they had to have the same topping: two margheritas for two people at two o'clock.
Just as our lunch was never intended to be an intricately planned operation, it was also never intended to become the subject of a blog post. However, there was such interest on social media, that I thought it was fitting to write a few light-hearted words on our lunch. First, I must offer a disclaimer: what follows is my personal preference, rather than any expertise on authentic pizza making.
Both Bertha's and Pi Shop offer a Neapolitan-style pizza, with a thin base and a puffed, pillowy edge. Both are blistered from the searing heat of a wood-fired oven, with blackened bubbles that sigh hot air at each bite. Both are made from sourdough, with that characteristic tang in taste and slight elasticity in texture.
The most noticeable difference is that there is far more dough on the Pi Shop pizza, with its huge cornicione that collapses into a soft, chewy centre. Bertha's cornicione is softer and smaller, which makes it more in proportion to the centre and means you can finish the whole pizza with room left for pudding.
Bertha’s pizza may be softer in texture, but it is far smokier in flavour. Perhaps it is cooked more quickly or at a higher heat, because the leopard-spotted dough has a more charred, bitter flavour that - for me - is a little too assertive and can overshadow more mild toppings. Whilst Pi Shop's dough retains complexity of flavour from the sourdough starter and long prove, its more subtle taste supports, rather than competes with, the toppings.
Verdict: Bertha's for the size and texture, Pi Shop for the flavour.
Enough analysis of the dough, let's move on to what happens when the blackened lip gives way to the milk white of mozzarella and the blush of tomato.
It is immediately evident, both to myself and several other Twitter commentators, that Bertha's pizza has more mozzarella. On both pizzas, the mozzarella possesses that lovely, mild milkiness and smooth, dense texture with a slight ooze at the edges. We take many bites of one pizza, then the other, but conclude that the mozzarella on each is of the finest quality. I can't claim to possess extensive knowledge on the 'correct' cheese-to-tomato ratio, but having more mozzarella (especially when it is this good) is my preference.
If Bertha's celebrates the cheese, then Pi Shop definitely champions the tomato sauce, which is indeed excellent - rich, a little sweet and the slight superior of the two. This focus on the sauce makes for a soggier pizza, which some friends do favour, whilst I look for a more solid base. The drizzle of olive oil on the Bertha's pizza adds the moistness and richness that comes from the Pi Shop sauce, without leaving the pizza too wet.
Verdict: Bertha's for the mozzarella, Pi Shop for its tomato sauce.
My renewed realisation that both pizzas are sensational, with fantastic elements that make it too close to definitively decipher a favourite. I prefer the texture of one dough and the flavour of another; the mozzarella on one pizza, but the tomato sauce on the other. For me, Bertha's just pips it because of the proportion of the crust to centre and the less soggy middle, but - that said - I could quite happily eat that springy, subtly sour Pi Shop dough by itself. Delicious.
Ultimately, the only strong conclusion I can draw is that I am extremely fortunate to live close by to not one, but two, such pizzerias. And, just a little further away, await more superlative pizza places, from Flour & Ash to Bosco. Perhaps a pizza tour is in order?