I hope the metaphorical bucket of my bucket list is bottomless, for it seems restaurants in Bristol are opening up faster than I can earn the money to eat at them. I have been reluctant to visit the new pizza quarter in Wapping Wharf, feeling that the Bristol pizza market is saturated, but I was overcome by a flurry of effusive social media posts. And I am so glad I was. Here, by the banks of the murky river Avon, I ate two pizzas as good as those found in the sparkling blue bay of Naples.
The first of the two excellent pizzas is at Pi Shop, the more informal restaurant from Casamia’s chef-founder Peter Sanchez-Iglesias. The combination of Italian parentage and a Michelin star has created high expectations, and Pi Shop does not disappoint.
It is a menu of two halves. In part, it is a riff on Italian-American classics, such as Hawaiian and Meat Feast, elevated by top-quality ingredients. In part, it is a purveyor of speciality pizza: beetroot and ewes curd, Australian truffle and parmesan, or lamb, courgette and blue cheese. A broccoli pizza emitted waves of flavour, from the bittersweet char of purple sprouting and the sharpness of Pugliese onions, through to the tang of goats cheese soothed by more mild mozarella.
But its the dough - dimpled with air pockets and freckled with blisters from the wood-fired oven - that makes Pi Shop’s pizza truly superb. The puffy crust yields to a comfortingly thick, doughy centre. The middle stands up to the toppings without becoming watery. There is the faint tang of sourdough, but it is not sour; there is a hint of smokiness, but none of the bitter charring that can come from pizza ovens.
I could rhapsodise on about the dough for several pages. Yet, for fear of becoming a bore, it suffices to say that I would have been satisfied eating a plain corniccione alone. The pizza was so good that we considered ordering another instead of dessert, and then regretted our decision not to for the entire evening. My advice: if you’re visiting Pi Shop, leave the self-restraint at home.
Whilst Pi Shop evolved from a Michelin-star restaurant, Bertha’s began life as a more lowly yellow Land Rover. After receiving critical acclaim, the yellow of Bertha’s Land Rover has been re-figured as the yellow tiles of their bricks and mortar site in Wapping Wharf. Head in through the (yellow) doors and take a seat in the upstairs gallery, from where you can gaze down on the chefs as they work.
Bertha, now in her third incarnation, is the hand-built Neapolitan pizza oven at the heart of the restaurant. Stoked to a searing heat of 500C, she cooks pizza in 60 seconds, which results in a dough that is softer, a little less airy than that at Pi Shop or Flour & Ash. The flavour, too, is milder, letting the toppings shine.
There are cured meats, seasonal vegetables and delicate cheeses - mozzarella and burrata - often brought together by a final flourish. Perhaps they will be embellished by herb oil, ‘hot house’ honey or brown butter, perhaps by a smattering of chilli or pine nuts. For dessert, there is gelato. We order a scoop of chocolate and peanut butter, separately, and then swap spoonfuls when we realise they are best eaten together. They would have been better still, no doubt, with a scoop of the day's blackcurrant alongside.
Bertha’s, like Pi Shop, has grown quickly to join Flour & Ash at a height that is head and shoulders above the more pedestrian pizza restaurants in Bristol. Together, these titans prove me wrong: there is a place for more pizza in Bristol.