Soho, 103 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0DT
Informal, cheap, and entirely uncheerful New York-style pizza joint.
I am on the Charing Cross Road; it is bright, it is cold, and I need lunch. In front of me is NY Fold, one of the many options in Soho’s ever-burgeoning pizza restaurant scene. It proclaims to do “Pizza Like It Oughta Be”, namely, in the New York-style; this is exciting news.
London is currently living in a halcyon age of pizza. No longer are we forced to dip the stale crusts of our processed mystery meat covered carb plates into grand quantities of garlic mayonnaise in order to make them passably edible. Every inch of our sourdough, wood-fired, freshly made, seasonally topped pizza is delicious. It’s all staunchly Italian (more specifically, Neapolitan) and if NY Fold is going to offer me an authentic New York-style pizza to chow down on then I’m all mouth.
There is very little that Londoners truly love. We do not love, for instance, each other. However, authenticity in our food is one thing we hold dear.
“I had Chinese last night.” “Oh really, what sort, was it Xinjiang province?” is now a legitimate conversation for two Londoners to have.
We are a city of food wankers. But that’s fine, because we all know it, and we are all okay with it for one reason: it has led to London becoming the yummy capital of the world.
The waitress and waiter both look at me as I walk in, and they seem slightly surprised. “Hello…table for 1?” I say, and am subject to even more surprise. Okay, they are not really waiters, I get it. They are here to just hang around and bring me food; that’s okay, I’ll seat myself.
I sit at the high metal benches looking out onto the busy road, discovering as I do that the benches are high, the stools are not. Now, there are two things you primarily do in a restaurant: you sit and you eat. If a restaurant is unable to get the sitting bit right then they have succeeded in getting at least 50% of the experience wrong. This is not an optimum eating height, not even close. I feel like a dog at a dinner table. As I’m fidgeting around in my seat the waiter hands me a menu; a menu, no less, covered in sauce stains and the greasy fingerprints of the previous owner. Unless you are dining at a Wetherspoons in Carlisle at 11am on a Sunday morning, this is not acceptable.
They sell by the slice, big old slices of New York style pizza. I like this idea because I’ve supposedly got things to do in the afternoon, like start some blog or other, and as accomplishing anything after 2pm is already a Herculean task, if I were to tackle a whole pizza at lunch time then I would certainly lack the fortitude to do anything other than Facebook what my friend’s ex got up to in Lyon. However, the names and toppings of the slices set more alarm bells ringing: Chicken Parma, Big Daddy, Grandma’s Pie…Grandma’s Pie? Jesus Christ…
Still, appearances can be deceiving and this may well be, as they proclaim, the best pizza this side of the pond. I order a slice of Margherita and a slice of Big Daddy with Bacon, which consists of fresh spinach (fresh spinach, lucky me), bacon, artichoke hearts, garlic oil, caramelized onions, mozzarella, and the vaguely named grated cheese.
While my pizza is being reheated (because if you are selling by the slice you are not cooking by the slice, you are carving and reheating) I pop to the gents. On the tiny spiral staircase leading upstairs a lamp is hanging off of the wall. Not in a Polpo-style, shabby-chic, ventilation shafts on display way, it’s just hanging off of the wall, forcing me to duck under it. The toilet smells heavily of bleach, half of it is out of order and, if I am honest, the less said about the experience the better.
I return to my seat and await my lunch. My slices arrive lukewarm on a metal disk – none of it looks appetising. My Margherita is a triangle of bright yellow, looking like a block from Lego’s new Pythagoras range. First impression of the Big Daddy is that my bacon is an insult to the word; tiny cubes of pink, flabby, flavourless meat that is so far removed from bacon that I doubt it’s even carcinogenic. The spinach also looks conspicuously not fresh. There does not seem to be any sign of artichoke hearts nor caramelised onions and I start to question if this is indeed the pizza that I ordered. I try to discern the toppings and match them to the menu but everything is so hopelessly beige and limp that it all blends into one. After a few bites I give up on it. The toppings are all uniformly terrible, but it is due to the “grated cheese” that I finally throw in the towel. The sheer volume of the stuff renders it inedible, which is not a sentiment I thought I would ever encounter – but this is not good cheese. I find rivers of grease flowing down my fingers and splattering the metal disk in a thoroughly unappetising way.
The Margherita is not inedible. It tastes of nothing: no tomato, no seasoning, no dough; just melted cheese, lots of fast congealing, twice melted cheese. By the time I am halfway through my slice the cheese has cooled fully and become a solid tectonic plate of rubbery fat, which slides of off my base revealing the dough to have the look and texture of a human brain. For some reason this reminds me of my childhood. And then I realise why: what I am eating is one of those pizzas that a friend would pull from the freezer at 4am on a Sunday morning after you got back to their parents’ house, pissed on cheap cider (“Shh! Don’t wake my mum!”). Dr. Oetker, Ristorante, Chicago Town, Goodfella’s. These words drift through my mind like the ghosts of terrible pizzas past.
I pay my bill. It costs a tenner, which isn’t a lot of money, but that’s completely irrelevant because I received nothing of value in return for my tenner – ten pounds for nothing is overpriced. The waitress asks, with a genuine smile, if I enjoyed my meal. The staff, although bemused at first, have been nothing but lovely throughout and so because I’m British I smile and nod. “Mmmm, delicious. Thank You”.
A sign on the door informs me that GQ Magazine rated this “Top 3 Best Pizza in London”, another reason, if one was needed, not to read GQ. Trust me, there are three better Pizzas within a hundred metres of this shambles.
VERDICT: London is better than this, we have moved on. NY Fold is a step backwards.
BETTER OPTIONS: Yes, everywhere. Pizza Pilgrims, Soho. Bravi Ragazzi, Streatham. Santa Maria, Ealing. Mamma Dough…Homeslice…Your Freezer…honest to god, anywhere.