Don’t go to Otto expecting to make your regular pizza order. There’s no Margherita, no Hawaiian, there’s not even any thin, crisp wood fired bases or deep dish pizza. Otto is a specialised pizza joint – the pizza here is all cornmeal crust and the toppings feature whacky combinations such as brie and grape. Apparently the owners got the idea from a road trip across America where they discovered cornmeal pizza at Dove Vivi in Portland, Oregon.
Pesto and ricotta pizza
The restaurant has only been open just over a week and so has a bright, shiny, new feel to it but is still unassuming. Right on a corner of Chepstow road in Bayswater it has big windows that let in so much light that I was wishing I had my sunglasses with me. The tables and chairs look like they has been rescued from a local primary school and along with the shiny metal pizza oven sitting in one corner that is the extent of the decor.
The menu is similarly straightforward. It offers three choices of salad (priced between £2.50 and £6 for a salad to share) and six pizzas. That’s it. I loved the lack of choice as it helped combat my frightful indecision. There’s no pasta, no garlic bread, none of the other peripheral things that we have come to associate with pizza places. All you get is a one page menu, a few other pizza toppings scrawled on a blackboard and a choice of three flavours of gelati for dessert. Whatever topping you choose the pizza costs £3.50 a slice, £10 a half or £18 for a whole pizza which encourages trying out different flavours and ordering by the slice.
The broccoli salad to share (£6) was a huge jumble of lettuce leaves, broccoli florets and black beans smothered in a tangy Dijon vinaigrette. It was pretty unrefined and rustic and a little light on the actual broccoli but tasty enough. Then onto the main event, the pizza, which came served in a deep metal pan. The base was made from cornmeal which was very dense and almost crumbly. It had a strong flavour and the texture was interesting but I think that the smoky flavour of a traditional wood fired dough base is hard to beat. The pesto and ricotta topping featured three different types of cheese: mozzarella, fontina, and ricotta. The cheese was laced with a chunky house made spinach pesto and topped with fresh tomato and basil leaves. While the quality of the ingredients was good, the taste was on the monotonous side.
A better option was the fennel sausage topping from the specials board. Crumbled sausage was teamed with fresh corn and caramelised onions in a great flavour combination. The toppings were generous, which was one of the benefits of the sturdy cornmeal crust which can hold a lot. The pizza itself was also incredibly filling to the extent that my friend Morto and I could only eat two slices each (the whole pizza is six slices). Usually I can easily demolish half a pizza without a second thought and so I instantly worried that perhaps I was coming down with something. Luckily there’s actually a scientific reason for my seeming lack of appetite, cornmeal crust is really high in fibre and so naturally filling.
Half/half pesto and ricotta and sausage pizza
There were a few small touches at Otto that I really appreciated and which deserve special mention. The carafe of water that was brought unasked to our table when we sat down, the exclusion of a compulsory/”optional” service charge from the bill and the willingness to wrap up our leftover pizza for us to take home. Much as I wanted to love Otto I don’t think I’m a convert to the cornmeal crust. I prefer my pizza dough light, smoky and a bit more pliant.
Details: 6 Chepstow road, Bayswater W2 5BH (Ph 0207 792 4088) Tube: Bayswater. Only open in the evenings from 5pm (no lunch service) and not open Sundays.
The winners of the BBC Summer Good Food Show tickets are Dylan, KohSamui, The Student Gourmet, Glenn and Cheryl. The winners have been contacted and hopefully their tickets are winging their way towards them now.