At this West End branch of Paesano Pizza – they have another in Merchant City – it’s noisy as all hell. It’s so busy with students (it’s cheap), families (the aforementioned noise) and couples (that’s amore) that even on a Tuesday evening at 9pm the place is rammed.
There’s a no-bookings policy but you’ll want to stand at the bar for aperitivi anyway. The house veneto bianco is by no means elegant, but this isn’t that sort of place – it comes in a water glass, is crisp and cold and that’s enough for me. With Paesano being the first business in living memory to do justice to this truly gorgeous art deco former bank (the same space that once played host to the saddest Costa in all the land), the surrounds are swoon-worthy – all white Italian marble, high ceilings and dark timber.
Every table has views of the open kitchen, where you can watch these skilled pizzaioli craft their wares. It’s all part of the show. The dough is shaped on marble tops and thrown into the 500-degrees-celsius wood-fired oven, each one taking mere seconds to cook.
Order the no. 2 margherita at £6 but pay the extra £1.50 for the fuller-flavoured mozzarella di bufala over the standard fior di latte. We tried others – the mushroom one, the prosciutto number, the Tuscan fennel sausage and the aubergine. All were delicious but none compared to the marg’s refined beauty. The crust was fluffy, chewy and charry-edged thanks to a 48-hour yeast and sourdough fermentation. The tomato sauce was loose and soupy, wilting the centre of the pie and contrasting gratifyingly with the crust. Fresh basil added aroma, and discs of snowy white mozzarella melted on to the top, slipping off as you ate. It was a ludicrously joyous mess fest that will make you reassess your judgement on the shambolic way toddlers eat – maybe those tiny humans have a point. Dip your crusts in the table-top chilli oil if you need a hit, but you probably won’t need to.
The pizza was the star, but the mixed salad was generous for £3, and burrata is always a good idea as a side option. The milky soft-serve was a pleasing way to end – order the fudgy, sweetly sauced amarena cherries to go on top.
You won’t be here long. Service is fast – not always the most attentive, but warm and welcoming, which more than makes up for it. You’re in Italy now, and things are different here.