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Review: Planet Pizza, and Flour and Ash

I’ve occasionally reflected that, were I to compile a list of the world’s most overrated foodstuffs, pizza would rank pretty close to the top. Of course, hamburgers would come first, with ice cream, asparagus and tomatoes in hot pursuit, but I daresay that the lauded pizza would not be far behind. It’s not that I don’t like all these things – well, asparagus excepted – but that I don’t like them that much, despite the fact that the rest of the world drools at their very mention.

When visiting a pizzeria, therefore, I’m seldom expecting a top notch dinner; filling, undoubtedly, and very often enjoyable, but nothing with which to bore my readers. As it so happens, however, I have been lucky enough in the past few months to visit two such establishments, both of which exceeded my admittedly moderate expectations. Detecting an irresistible chance for a ‘One Gloucester Road: Two Pizzas’ review, I have pounced on the opportunity like the hack journalist I am.

No, no, believe it or not, this is just a pizza, not the planet Mercury!
No, no, believe it or not, this is just a pizza, not the planet Mercury!

The first of these pizzerias, rather distastefully named ‘Planet Pizza’, has been a favourite for some years. It’s not exquisite, but it’s good, decent, hearty pizza, without an objectionable quantity of tomato and boasting a pleasantly crispy base. One of its most unfortunate features is the novelty menu, on which classic pizzas are rechristened after celestial bodies, to which they bear seemingly no resemblance; I, for instance, can never say no to a ‘Mercury’, whose array of spinach, olives, ricotta and egg doesn’t immediately bring to mind our smallest planet’s ashen surface. Nonetheless, the pizza is unfailingly tasty, its lack of meat notwithstanding.

Perhaps due to my comparative restraint in ordering a vegetarian pizza, although more probably because I’m greedy, a meal at Planet Pizza feels incomplete without a pudding; and while pizza and pudding may not be closely linked in your mind, Planet Pizza’s sugary offering is every bit as enjoyable as the main course. Disregarding chocolate fudge cake (add that to the overrated list), I am invariably torn between a fresh Belgian waffle, drizzled with golden syrup and boasting a crispy, almost granular texture, and the truly exceptional sticky toffee pudding, which is quite honestly one of the best I know. This time, I went for the waffle, which lived up to my every expectation and added yet another friendly layer of cholesterol to my already straining arteries.

A visual representation of the content of most of my articles.
A visual representation of the content of most of my articles.

Planet Pizza, therefore, is the best of good, honest pizza. Not so the next restaurant, Flour and Ash, which has redeveloped the classic dish along rather more sophisticated lines. Starting with a sourdough base – an innovation that may seem pretentious, but which offers unbeatable flavour – a panoply of inspired toppings makes selection an ordeal. Rejecting the allure of ox cheek ragu, I settled for the medley of ‘wood roast leek, thyme, pancetta and grana padano cheese’, spread over a bed of béchamel sauce, instead of the typical tomato.

Without doubt, this was a prince among pizzas; the leeks offered a smoky sweetness perfectly matched by the cheese, while the occasional saltiness of a pancetta morsel contrasted with the creamy blandness of béchamel. The resulting pizza was crisp, rich and thoroughly satisfying, and thanks to a terrific lunchtime deal came to £9, rather less than a Planet Pizza equivalent.

Spectacular.
Spectacular.

The restaurant itself, boasting exposed pipes, dangling wires and a chocolate brown ceiling, was the sort of place I’d usually hate, but, strangely, I didn’t. Paired with the jazzy calypso of talented Lord Kitchener, who I was unaware had enjoyed a musical career alongside invading the Sudan, the room felt lively, relaxed and pleasantly refined. Indeed, the ambience would equally suit a family night out or a slightly smarter occasion, in contrast to Planet Pizza, which seems to be inhabited by hordes of bawling infants, overseen by ineffective elders. I can’t actually remember if they play stupid music in ‘the Planet’, but a general recollection of extreme volume springs to mind, so they probably do.

To offer some form of conclusion, then, it is worth stressing that both restaurants are a cut above the standard pizzeria, offering food that is good enough to bring me back again and again. It can’t be denied, however, that Flour and Ash cuts still higher than its competitor, with a pizza finally good enough to merit the praise lavished upon the dish by the world at large. I’m almost tempted to give it five stars, but I shan’t, because of the delightful taste sensation that’s coming up in my next and final review…

Until then, dine well!

Planet Pizza — ★ ★ ★ ☆☆

Flour and Ash — ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆