- Small Salads £2.50-3.50; Large Salads £4-6; Pizza Slices £3.50; Half Pizzas £10; Whole Pizzas £18
- For the full set of high-resolution photos, please visit my Flickr set for this meal
SFO -> LAX -> PDX -> LON
I was first alerted to Otto Pizza by gourmetraveller, who, upon posting her review, gave me a nudge to try it, given that its inspiration was drawn from my homeland and that it is was also located very close to my current home. (By the way, from what I can make out, she was also the first one to review the now frequently reviewed and gushed-over Sushi of Shiori, so make sure to follow her foodie adventures!).
Thus, it is strange that I happened upon Otto purely by chance and without forward planning. You see, I never actually looked up the address, so didn’t realize it was situated at the bottom of the road I always use to get to Westbourne Grove, whether via bus, car or foot. Yes, that would be Chepstow Road. We were out with Baby LF, were very hungry, and I noticed something new had opened up across the road from the bus stop we normally use to get home. When I saw the name of the place and the words “cornmeal crust pizza” inscribed on the sign, it all came rushing back to me and I insisted we try it out.
At first it seemed like sort of an odd location to open up shop, but tons of buses stop literally at their doorstep, so I suppose they get a lot of footfall.
The Otto story starts in Portland, Oregon (PDX). Tom and Rich, the guys who set it up, visited a popular local pizza joint called Dove Vivi in Northeast Portland, and fell in love. Pourquoi, you ask? Well, Dove Vivi uses cormeal (aka cornflour, polenta, etc.) in their pizzas. They are not the first place to do this in the States, but the third. The first two are located in California – that would be Vicolo in San Francisco (SFO) and Zelo in Los Angeles (LAX). To make a long story short, basically some people who worked in the original place branched off and started up a spin-off, and then that happened again. I was told that this was all done in a friendly and amicable fashion.
Otto is a very simply designed pizzeria, with a wood motif running through it. It felt informal, inviting and fun when we entered, even though it was mostly empty due to it being the middle of the afternoon.
The menu is similarly clear, abbreviated and brown, presented on a sheet of paper with a lovely texture.
In addition to the standard pizza varieties on the printed menus, they also offer a few special pizzas which change every few days, as well as a special wine or two which are not listed on the printed list of eight wines.
A nice touch was that they provide you with a big bottle of water for the table should you want it.
Getting Pie High
We decided to try a few slices of pizza and share a small salad of mixed greens.
The salad arrived first and the leaves were good and crispy and fresh. The vinaigrette was also nice and sharp without being overpowering.
Next, Tom snuck up behind us with a hot and heavy black pan that was full of vibrant looking pizza slices. This was a great way to serve them.
From what I could make out, the crusts at Otto are made from flour, cornmeal (and I think olive oil), though I can’t tell you the particular brands/suppliers or proportions of ingredients as I didn’t ask – and they probably wouldn’t have told me anyway!
The dough itself is actually very light while remaining quite filling. There is a distinct butteriness to it, and it almost seems as if you’re eating a pie, not a traditional pizza, as it is not at all doughy. It also helps to facilitate a denser set of toppings than you could get away with on a normal pizza dough base, as the cornmeal seems to make the dough more robust. For me, the crust was a pleasant sensation overall, and some of the topping combinations were really excellent.
The slices were quite large – making the £3.50 price tag not as hefty as it may appear on the face of it – so Mrs. LF and I decided to split each slice in half. Hence, the photos of the pizzas are of half-slices, not whole.
Both of us agreed that the best of the bunch was the sliver of sausage. It was made with a base of sweet tomato sauce, then stacked with homemade fennel sausage, marinated green peppers, caramelized onions and topped off with some melted mozzarella. The sausage itself was very good and the delicacy of the fennel came through beautifully. All of the flavours and textures were working in harmony, so we were off to a good start.
Next up was the one that had looked the best to me on the menu. Luckily, I wasn’t let down by the taste either. As advertised, it was composed of caramelized balsamic-roasted red onion slices, fresh sweetcorn, both regular and smoked mozzarella, and a sprinkling of chives on top. This was definitely my second-favorite slice and somewhere hidden within there was a lovely flavour of BBQ, which I enjoyed a lot. It wasn’t that horrible and sickly sweet Pizza Hut or Dominos BBQ flavour, but a more authentic version.
You can see what the crust looks like a bit better in the above image. It really is more like eating a light and buttery but filling pie crust than the bready pizza crust to which I am more accustomed. Its golden color looks purdy, too, no?
Next up was a slice from the specials board that Tom had kindly included free of change, because it is his favorite and he really wanted to get our thoughts on it. Besides the two main ingredients, there was also red onion on this slice and it was topped with some rough chopped salad leaves. I must say up front that I am not the biggest fan of courgettes, but I ate the whole slice quite happily and thought that the textures were spot-on and that the mixture of flavors worked well.
Last up was the slice we had actually ordered from the specials board. It seemed like it would work well on paper, but neither of us were feeling the love. Somehow the slightly sharp cheese and sweet tomatoes seemed to push away from each other rather than creating more than the sum of the parts. I can’t quite explain why, but I didn’t care too much for this one.
Baby LF was happily sleeping through most of our corn-crusted meal, and we thought we shouldn’t push our luck, or our waistlines, further by staying for dessert. So I opted for a quick and competent Square Mile espresso, and we were on our way.
Otto Times Two
I really enjoyed tasting a new type of pizza and thought the crust was excellent for what it was, although I had no basis for comparison. The meats and produce used in the toppings were of high quality and were all very fresh. Tom and Rich are two young and friendly guys who clearly have a genuine passion for bringing these West Coast delights to the streets of London. They were eager to get our feedback and very keen to please, which is always a good sign, and I wish them luck with their pizza-related venture(s).
Personally speaking, while I definitely enjoyed the pies, I can’t see myself developing a specific craving for these pizzas. But it certainly makes for a great snack or casual meal if you’re in the area. In fact, I just realized that there are now two places that begin with ‘Otto’ that I will frequent for snacks when I am in the Westbourne Grove area, the other being my perennial favorite Ottolenghi.
If you’d like to sample these unique pizza slices, definitely sign up for the next Pizza Tuesday on August 24th being organized by Daniel of Young and Foodish (also on twitter) – it looks set to be a fun event.
As Daniel advises on his website, it is best to order these pizzas by the slice and eat them quickly, as they are best when hot and lose a bit of their appeal when left to sit for too long (maybe that didn’t do any favors for the goats cheese & sundried tomato slice, as it was the last one we ate).
*Note: I have dined at Otto Pizza once, and it was for a weekend lunch.*