For a long time I have raved about Homeslice, the pizza restaurant that started as a street stall before setting up as bricks and mortar on Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden. Now it has expanded to open a deserved second restaurant on Wells Street, Fitzrovia. Whenever I have introduced anyone to the place, they have become fans and returned many times themselves to partake again and again of twenty-inch pizzas, cooked in a custom-built wood-fired oven for sixty to ninety seconds at 500°C.
The success of Homeslice comes partly from the laid back yet buzzing atmosphere, with its stripped back menu, offering just pizza and a choice of only a few types of drink. But the real key to is the toppings and their quality. Served on a variety of bases other than just tomato, they cover both the out there and the traditional, with combinations that work, but really shouldn’t.
Over the years I’ve been eating at Homeslice they have done oxtail & horseradish cream on a tomato base, chorizo, corn & coriander on cream corn, and a beurre blanc base sporting queen scallop, salsa verde, peanuts and watercress, or mackerel, mint, broad bean and pea.
And thankfully you can have one of their pizzas with two toppings, or a half and half, saving you the agony of trying to narrow down the array of choice to just one.
Long delighted by the toppings and baffled at how they come up with them, let alone make them work on a pizza, I got in touch with these pizza wizards to ask co-owner and head chef, Ry Jessup, and his fellow owners, brothers Mark and Alan Wogan, about their creations, in the hope of finding some answers.
While you have more traditional toppings on offer, I think it’s fair to say that you are known for the more “out there” toppings – flavour combinations that work separately from a pizza but which most people would never think to put on one. So where do the ideas come from? Do you look somewhere for inspiration or is there a driving idea of what you’re looking for?
There is no one particular creative influence or inspiration. Both Mark and I eat out a lot and are constantly looking for new and interesting ideas to put our own spin on. This could come from cooking at home, being cooked for by friends or eating out in restaurants; it’s the food that we eat that influences us the most.
What with your mozzarella being flown in from Naples twice weekly, other ingredients sourced locally, ethically, seasonally and delivered daily, sauces and dough made from scratch and the best quality ingredients, it is clear that you take great pride in using quality produce to produce the finest pizzas you can. Does this mean that the toppings you come up with are limited by what your suppliers have access to, or is it simply that, if you decide on an ingredient, you will find a supplier that meets your quality criteria?
We spent a long time before opening the restaurant looking through all the possible London suppliers for ones that meet our ethical and culinary standards, which gives you certain limitations and also gives you boundaries in which to be creative.
Once you have an idea for a topping, how long does it usually take to perfect it? Do you ever look to change your entire menu?
You usually know within two or three attempts if it’s going to work or not, and whether you need to go back to the drawing board. The menu is never changed all in one swoop; things change seasonally and as and when we feel they need to.
How long was it before you took the decision to do non-tomato based pizzas? Over the years, the number of toppings without a tomato base have increased in terms of their share of the menu, an unusual thing to do. Was this about doing something different or was it driven by the fact that it allows for new and more varied flavour/topping combinations?
What are your favourite pizzas at Homeslice, at other pizza restaurants and any that you have always wanted to try and do?
Ry currently likes the goat shoulder and sumac yogurt and Mark likes the anchovy with caramelised onion and olive. Other pizza we like is Santa Maria for more traditional flavours and Yard Sale in Clapton for their creative approach.
I’m assuming that not all ideas for toppings work out, so are there any that you have never managed to pull off but wish you had?
Sometimes pizzas that we think are great are not fully embraced, perhaps because the ingredients are too challenging. For example black pudding with pickled apple: it was a great pizza but just didn’t sell as well as we would’ve liked.
Shame, I rather liked that one. Other than great flavours and ingredients, what is the key to a great pizza restaurant in your view? Is it keeping things simple, as you do, with a choice of only a few drinks and sharing tables, so a relaxed atmosphere is created, allowing the food to do the speaking?
We only serve pizza, so the key is to get that right and be really nice to all our customers.
What do you think is Homeslice’s signature that all its pizzas have?
We love what we do and try to put that into the pizza.
Have you got anything you’re particularly excited with flavour-wise that you’re working on?
Keep an eye out for the Merguez sausage…
Now that sounds enticing. Finally, any chance you can let us in on what you’re planning in Shoreditch? Is it another restaurant or are you going back to your roots with a street stall? Or is it something completely new?
In Shoreditch we will be doing what we do and hopefully people will like it: Homeslice in a different environment.
Photos by Charlie McKay