Getting your hands on a Westwood pizza for dinner requires the meticulous planning and precision of a Swiss military operation. Demand drastically outstrips supply, so don’t wander in at 5.06pm feeling smug about your lead on the latecomers – there will already be an hour-long wait on a busy night. In fact, the serious regulars to this tiny Australia Street pizza shop know that while they don’t start cooking until 5pm, they will take your orders sometime after 4.30pm when they’re setting up. This is an important factor because they can only cook two pizzas every five minutes in the first half hour. From 5.30pm to 10pm they ramp it up to three every five minutes. This means there are approximately 30 pizzas available before 6pm, and 36 every hour after that – 174 is the maximum number of pizzas per night and every single one is accounted for.
So what is it about these wood-fired pies that has captured the attention of Newtown’s well-serviced snack set? Is it that the shop is an easy walk from the green slopes and quality dogs of Camperdown Memorial Rest Park, making it perfect evening picnic fare? It certainly helps, as does the fact that the Courthouse Hotel’s bottle shop is en route. Is it the fact you can justify your pizza dinner with a generous side of wood-roasted broccolini covered in a super savoury caper and olive pannagratto doused in lemon? It does add a sheen of respectability to your choices.
But we’re putting our money on the fact that good pizza is a reassuring anchor in this mixed up crazy world, and Mitchell Westwood really knows his way around a pizza oven. The 26-year-old chef has been making pizzas since his first hospo job at 15, and even co-owned a pizza shop by the time he was 18. From there he hopped between shops, soaking up the knowledge needed to assist Luke Powell with his Newtown pizza shop, Bella Brutta, and then worked the launch of Cicciabella in Bondi. Now he has his own shop, and what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in regular fans clamouring for one of the scant few indoor or streetside perches.
A thin, charry, chewy crust base that’s been fermented for three days and topped with buffalo milk ricotta, a not-too-spicy spreadable salami, some fragrant, woodsy thyme, a little sweet kick from caramelised onions, toasted fennel seeds and a sparky crack of black pepper is what you need to fortify yourself for whatever tomorrow holds. Or do you need the comfort of the classic red, white and green made for Queen Margherita? There’s also a snappy marinara topped with crushed baby capers and confit garlic oil for vegans, and they’re fermenting garlic cloves in honey for three months before liberally applying it to the hugely popular garlic, honey and cheese pizza. The changing of seasons has seen the heirloom tomato pizza swapped for a earthy, funky flavour bomb featuring a black garlic and mushroom base, with mixed funghi on top, tallegio for extra punch, roasted cocktail onions and leeks for sweet balance, and a wedge of lemon and fresh parsley to pull all those base notes into sharp focus.
Newtown loves a specialist, be it a vegan ramen joint or a café selling six kinds of lamingtons and not much else. So a skinny slip of a pizza parlour selling seven wood-fired pies, two sides and some chilli XO to dip your crusts in fits right in. Getting your hands on a Westwood pizza might require more forethought and planning than your average takeaway dinner, but the rewards more than outweighs the costs, so set your alarm for 4.30pm, because you’ve got to be in it to win it – and there are only prizes for the first 174 to make it over the line.