Last night saw the long-awaited opening (for Camberwell residents at least) of Theo’s Pizzeria. It occupies the old Johansson’s site, which never really got up and running with its mix of sandwiches and Scandinavian influenced dishes. Prior to that, it was a sandwich shop (run by art students?) with an interesting approach to service and hygiene. In short, the prospect of fresh blood in a space that just never reached its potential has had us excited for weeks.
The interior has been transformed by a vast amount of white paint, one less wall and a whacking great wood fired pizza oven. The garden area out back has also finally been given the makeover it deserves, apparently courtesy of owner Theo’s mum. It’s a really lovely space, like a little patio oasis with a canopy of grape vines overhead.
So what of the pizza? Well, in short, it’s spot on. The eponymous Theo Lewis is ex-head chef of Pizza East, and so he has credentials when it comes to dough and putting things on it. The bases are Neopolitan style, made using a sourdough starter from Dusty Knuckle bakery in Dalston. There’s a strict set of rules (set out in an 11 page document by the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana) which define a true Neopolitan pizza. The oven must be wood fired, and if you take a look at the base, you’ll find the distinctive ‘leopard spotting’ pattern of charring which is caused by browning against the hot stone oven floor. This gives a slightly bitter, smoky flavour. In contrast to the puffy, chewy crust, the centre of the pizza is often described as ‘soupy’. The dough is very thin here, and the tomatoes, cheese and toppings get all dreamy as they mix together, making the middle section of the pizza soft and floppy. We’ll happily fight you for this bit.
Toppings are modest, but not stingy (guess what, that’s a characteristic of Neopolitan pizza too) and of great quality. Tomatoes are San Marzano (Strianese brand), mozzarella is Bianca la Bufala (flown in from Naples), anchovies are the Italian salted variety and meat comes from Flock and Herd butchers in Peckham. We also loved the Camberwell scotch bonnet ‘nduja which is made over the road in The Camberwell Arms. We tried three pizzas between two people, and that was after sharing a ‘bombetta’ — two cheeky balls of provola, pork shoulder and porchetta topped with a salsa verde-esque dressing. A bottle of juicy Italian red from The Winemakers Club (£20) went down very well alongside, and there’s a house red (Montepulciano) on its way soon.
With 50% off food during the soft launch (last chance today) our food bill came to a very reasonable £13.50 but these are hardly wallet shuddering prices anyway. We predict Theo’s will be a huge success, particularly considering everything was pretty near perfect on the opening night. From Wednesday, they’ll also be serving panuozzo — sandwiches made with bread cooked in the pizza oven, and there’s an ice cream version with damson and grappa. Yes please. Finally, we’ll just say that any leftover pizza makes an excellent breakfast, but we’re guessing you knew that already.