SOMETIMES ALL I WANT is a good old fashioned pizza. Just pizza, nothing else – no frills, no fanfare, no elaborate toppings, no fancy side dishes or silver service. I just want my pizza thin crust, straight out of a proper pizza oven and slammed down in front of me with good humour by some handsome waiter so I can metaphorically ‘put my feet up’ and relax. Sometimes I have pizza before the cinema (no chance of that at the moment), sometimes after; sometimes with friends over a bottle of good red, sometimes on my own over a large glass or two… Good pizza is not hard to find, but occasionally you come across EXCEPTIONAL pizza – and here’s where I’ve found it!
THE CONNAUGHT: I was invited as a guest of The Connaught Hotel in Mayfair, London to experience their Jean Georges Vongerichten restaurant during the height of the British summer. Many people were still too terrified to leave their homes, others had immediately fled to Mykonos, Ibiza, or the South of France the very moment covid lockdown ended and the first flights out of the country took off at Heathrow. So, the restaurant was serenely elegant… the perfect scenario in which to enjoy the very best from the (QR) menu. Sometimes I’m completely overwhelmed by the variety of choices so I ask the maitre d’ or waiter in the restaurant to bring me a small selection from the specialties of the house – and that’s what I did at Jean-Georges…
As I was dining alone, I sat at a table on the pavement terrace taking in the ambiance while sipping a perfectly chilled Kir Royale with a twist of lemon… the evening was beautiful – warm and balmy, the occasional Bentley glided past, old fashioned street lamps switched on one by one, white fairy lights twinkled in the trees, blue and pink banner flags strung across Mount Street – that spelled out the word L.O.V.E. – waved slowly above in the light summer breeze, atomized mist from the ‘Silence’ water installation by Japanese artist Tadao Ando, which is installed to the front of the hotel, wafted across the scene… totally magical.
First, the waiter brought me one of Jean Georges’ signature dishes, Crispy Salmon Sushi (above; exact description from the waiter in the video clip), then Black Pepper & Hazelnut Crusted Seabass (below; exact description from the waiter in the video clip) on a bed of shiitake mushrooms with grilled tender-stem on the side, and finally…the pizza!
Whatever amazing pizza you’ve tried before in your life, this one (below) matches it – or improves on it: Crispy base cooked to perfection, a topping of Fontina Cheese, lots of black truffle, a drizzle of the very best olive oil, tiny snippings of chives, and a frisée endive garnish. I could manage only two slices – but magnificent slices they were…
With room left for only one small dessert, I ordered the Cherry Eton Mess – it was a variation of a classic I saw all over the place during the summer… a peak of finest meringue filled with red fruit and cream, decorated with a sliver of gold leaf and surrounded by a moat of coulis – just the most deliciously sweet/sour end to a perfect meal. *The executive chef leaving the kitchen to come by and say ‘Hello’ was a bonus – thank you so much for a highly memorable supper, chef Zoll!
LA SEINE: In Paris, most people picnic by La Seine… it’s part of every day culture in the city to grab a bottle of wine, fromage, bread and some fruit then park yourself on one of the riverbanks or quais to watch the world float by. This happens most evenings, and often you’ll find a romantic couple dancing there too… it’s just the most chilled and civilised scene. I’ll often go to the market square on Boulevard St Germain, buy a couple of small pissaladiere from the patisserie there, find a decent red at Appellation Vins Fin nearby, then saunter down to Quai des Grandes Augustins, sit directly opposite Notre Dame, and enjoy them. Just half an hour respite from the buzz of the city, a quick snack, and I feel totally restored…
MAMMA’S PIZZERIA: I flew into the UK for a TV commercial modelling job for haircare and first had to self isolate for the mandatory 14 day period – no socialising… only allowed out for a few minutes of exercise and to eat. Wow, it was tough! Previous months of lockdown in isolation had been bad, but another two weeks of quarantine on top after having had such freedom again in France over the summer was brutal. I passed the time by exercising early in the morning in Princes Street Gardens, working on my laptop, eating healthy salads found at neighbouring cafes, and sleeping. Towards the end, about twelve days in, I decided to reward myself with a late lunch, some comfort food and a glass of red wine; by that time, I would have sold my soul for a pizza. Grassmarket is an area at the very foot of Edinburgh Castle, which is built on a tall rock that towers above the city, and it is home to Mamma’s Pizzeria. I chose this restaurant because it looked the most hospitable, clean and well maintained out of all the others lining the square; inside a lady chef was preparing the food in the kitchen and the menu looked great. Fiona was my waitress – a graduate from the University, filling in time before taking another project once the country/world gets back on it’s feet. I ordered an enormous pizza, smothered with all my favourite ingredients – tomato, extra cheese, anchovies, artichoke, chillis, everything I could think of, plus a large glass of red wine. That moment for me signalled the very near end of ‘solitary confinement’, and I’d recommend Mamma’s Pizzeria to anyone visiting the city. Friendly vibe, great pizzas, lovely staff, good location!