Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Pizzagate


When I first moved down to London all those years ago I made it a personal mission to work my way through as many of the (literally) hundreds of food delivery flyers that drop through my letterbox every month as I could, with the intention of impressing friends and visiting family members with the best that Battersea takeaway joints had to offer. Unfortunately only a tiny handful are any good. Spice Fusion impressed early on with their strong flavours and generous portions of poppadums, as did the Bombay Bicycle Club, which I'm told Gordon Ramsay is/was a regular customer of, if that's any recommendation. I have however come to the sad conclusion that there are no good Chinese or Thai delivery places, that only the two mentioned out of around 20 Indian deliveries are any good, and it's never a good idea to get a donner kebab delivered, sober or otherwise.

As for pizza, happily there are two excellent options, both on Lavender Hill. My current favourite is Firezza, which as well as delivering piping hot pizzas with excellent bubbly crusts has the most brilliant mobile ordering system: with literally 3 clicks you can send a pizza to your front door - it's dangerously easy. And then there's Basilico, who make actually pretty good Italian-style pizzas and were my favourite pizza suppliers until very recently. In fact, the Basilico Pizza Funghi au Truffle was almost a regular feature in my house, until one day something occurred to me that had been bothering me for a while. There's no truffle in it.

I don't mean just no real truffle - I wouldn't expect a £15 delivery pizza to be scattered with Alba's finest whites, nor even the preserved variety at a push (which has a horrible texture anyway). But truffle oil is incredibly potent and can be picked up from Tescos for not much more than a couple of quid, and even a few drops would lend an unmistakable familiar earthy aroma to a pizza. And yet, time after time, the Basilico Pizza Funghi au Truffle would arrive without even so much of a hint of truffle. So one day, I set off up the road to find out what on earth was going on.

The staff in Basilico Lavender Hill were lovely - helpful and friendly and eager to show me round their little branch. God knows what they thought of the strange man demanding to see their truffle oil but if they were put out they didn't show it. And although I half expected them to make some excuses or even admit they didn't put any truffle oil on the pizzas, they soon produced a couple of bottles - one half-used - of what the label proudly proclaimed was "Italian White Truffle Oil". With their permission, I opened the bottle and took a sniff.

Nothing. No truffle aroma at all - not even the faintest scent. The oil literally smelled of nothing - and not even olive oil, just completely inert. I offered the bottle to the guy behind the counter, who agreed with me that it smelled of nothing. I tasted a bit from my fingers - again nothing, just oil.

Now, if Basilico are deliberately using fake truffle oil and advertising the pizza as au truffle, then I'm pretty sure that's against the law. If they're being diddled by their suppliers, paying a premium for ordinary vegetable oil that has a 'Truffle' lable on the front, then their suppliers are in breach of the law. If on the other hand - and this is probably the most likely scenario - that Basilico are deliberately using a 'truffle' oil containing such undetectably tiny amounts of the raw ingredient that it's not technically in breach of the law but they're able to use the word 'truffle' on the menu without being sued, then that's just cynical.

To give Basilico a fair hearing, I called their franchise manager on the phone, who explained that he'd look into the matter and get back to me. After a couple of weeks, having heard nothing, I called him back and we had a bit of a chat about the fact that I'm pretty sure the truffle oil they were using had no truffle in, and he very unconvincingly maintained that he could smell a "very subtle" odour of truffle in the Basilico oil. I challenged him to tell the difference between that and a normal bottle of vegetable oil. I also offered to meet him at the Lavender Hill branch, and I would bring a little bottle of my own truffle oil by way of a comparison. That was a few weeks ago, and I still haven't heard anything. Something tells me he's not that confident he can tell the difference after all.

The result of all this to-ing and fro-ing is simply that they have lost me as a regular customer, which admittedly won't give them too much to worry about in the long-term. But it got me wondering how many other delivery places in London are guilty of embellishments on their menus. There's an Indian takeaway near me that advertises itself as organic - if you ordered a balti from there and the chicken wasn't really organic, would you be able to tell? I certainly wouldn't. Or what if KFC used only 10 different herbs and spices in their "secret" coating instead of 11? Would there be rioting in the streets?

As a light-hearted footnote to this post I was going to tell you about the Gourmet Chocolate Pizza Company, who kindly offered to send over a sample of their... unique... product to review. I was as you can imagine slightly sceptical, but still interested to see what on earth this crazy concept would be like up close. Unfortunately, thanks to the heavy hand of the Royal Mail, what arrived was basically a little plastic bag full of chocolate chippings:


It would take quite an imagination to reconstruct the neat little wedge of chocolate pizza that I'm assured this pile started off as at the beginning of its journey, but I'll have to take their word for it. I'm also afraid it's not an idea I can wholeheartedly endorse - if you eat a chocolate pizza like you would a real pizza you'd end up having a LOT of chocolate in one go, and if you didn't, well, what's the point in it being pizza-shaped? But perhaps I'm missing something. The chocolate tasted nice, so, yeah. Good luck to 'em.

As for Basilico, I've probably taken it as far as I can without going to the authorities, which given that I have a full-time job and I'm not 100% sure of the legal situation anyway, I'm not about to do. Plus, given that I'm lucky enough to live in London, I can just go and order a different pizza. Basilico's loss is Firezza's gain - I was tucking into their Chorizo pizza just last night. Except, hang on - come to think of it, that chorizo tasted an awful lot like ordinary sausage....

Photo courtesy of Food Stories

16 comments:

Helen said...

Ha ha - the chocolate pizza still makes me laugh. When I asked the guy what the link was between chocolate and pizza, he said (as you know, 'the shape' - it seems not even the shape holds up to any kind of transportation.

Perhaps the fact basilico haven't replied says all you need to know about the oil. Or perhaps it was truffle oil but they've been keeping it next to the stove or something and it spoiled. I'm very interested to know.

Anonymous said...

I live just around the corner, and I'd sugegst that you ignore both Basiolico and Firezza in favour of the far superior Donna Margherita. I used to be a Firezza man, but no longer

Chris said...

Helen: Possibly. But the flavour of that pizza has not changed at all over the years - I've never detected any truffle flavours, so something long-term is wrong.

Anonymous: Yes my views on Donna Margherita are well documented on this blog - it's my favourite pizza place. But this post was just about deliveries. Don't think DM deliver.

Rachel said...

I saw and tried the chocolate pizza at a food fair in Earls Court a few months ago. Very gimicky - someone must have decided that there is a market for it somewhere.
Sounds like you hae new part-time job investigaintg of restuarants and take-away joints are selling what they claim.

Lizzie said...

If tescos are selling truffle oil for a couple of quid it's probably flavoured with synthetic truffle and not the real thing. The cheapest real flavoured truffle oil I've found set me back nine of my finest pounds.

And yes, it should be pretty damn pungent. Shame on Basilico!

Chris said...

Rachel: Yes sounds like fun! I'm sure loads of restaurants get away with not supplying organic meats. I'd love to expose them :)

Lizzie: Yes I should have explained myself better. I know most "cheap" truffle oils only contain synthetic truffle, but at least they smell of something! There was something very wrong with the Basilico example.

r_j_white said...

Long time reader here (and failed food-blogger :-(

I'm not quite in your neck of the woods (live in Balham) but I'd recommend the following if you can get them to deliver to Battesea.

For Pizza: http://www.piccante.co.uk/index.html

For Chinese - Wimbledon Kitchen (everytime I stray from this place I get burned) http://www.garrattbusinesspark.com/addresses-wandsworth.php?id_ads=12&id_gfo=4

For Thai - Dusit Thai (my other half likes it but I'm not TOO sure)
http://www.dusitthai-uk.com/index.html

Krista said...

You are on a roll! Your last few posts seriously have me cracking up. Keep it up!

Chris said...

r_j_white: Food blogging is like alcoholism. There's no such thing as an ex-food blogger, just a dormant one :) Many, many thanks for those tips. I will try them out very soon and report back.

Krista: Thanks!

Monkey Gland said...

Ah, Krista, our blogging enabler...:-)

Graphic Foodie said...

Flipping good for you! I say launch a new food detectives blog.

And what on earth is the point of that pizza shaped chocolate? Seems like one of those ideas we all laugh about on Dragons Den.

Chris said...

Donna Margherita do deliver - though you have to spend a tenner, which is more than a single pizza. As I'm nearly next door, I wander in and collect... I've found Firezza to be my normal standby if I want anything different.

Luce said...

Firezza lost my custom big time last year, they delivered a pizza that was RAW dough, then refused to refund em for it. I wrote to, and rang the head office, but no one has ever got back to me. I've been appalled by them, and refused to use them ever since.

Caroline said...

Max brenner in NYC does a really good Chocolate pizza, it was just featured on the food network. Chocolate sauce instead of tomato sauce, chewey stringy toasted marshmallows instead of cheese and banana etc for toppings.
http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.sliceny.com/images/20060825Chocizza-thumb.jpg&imgrefurl=http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2006/08/chocolate_pizza_by_max_brenner.html&usg=__4hqRrwC0-6v5r-DbIs1FHlBNM3c=&h=375&w=500&sz=61&hl=en&start=2&sig2=-y4KK_8sSgbtlJfoscqXSQ&um=1&tbnid=gE1kdzDQ_nsrkM:&tbnh=98&tbnw=130&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dchocolate%2Bpizza%2Bmax%2Bbrenner%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26sa%3DN%26um%3D1&ei=t66aSqTvHJW8NsfBjacF

Gastro1 said...

We are lucky to have Firezza on our door step and also not to far from Franca Manca and Pizza Metro for a sit down.

Have you tried Chada on battersea Park Road for Thai - ne delivery but you can collect - I rate it as one of the better Thai's in London they also have a branch near Selfidges.

Weekend Carnivore said...

I love London and especially London food. However, in all of the 13 years since I moved from the States to the UK, I have never had a really good pizza here. To be fare, I never had a really good curry in the States either whereas there are many available in London.

For some reason, London - and the UK in general - just doesn't do pizza the way I like it.

Oddly, the best pizza I have had in Europe (and no, I haven't been to Italy yet) was in Belgium. It was spot on perfect and very similar to mom and pop pizza places back home.