Nick Buglione takes the sourdough express to 500 degrees
Once again, the sourdough express pulls out of the station. If you aren’t interested in pizza you’re on the wrong carriage. Brixton is akin to a little Naples when it comes to matters dough. Foodie trends and health hysterias come in and out of our insta-periscopic-chat-fuelled consciousness, but pizza has tenaciously held on to its traditions and provenance.
Obviously, I am not including roguish Yankee brigands Pizza Hut and Dominoes whose evil army of swarming scooters have done unspeakable things in the name of mediocrity and couch potato delivery models. Who invented the Hawaiian?
You can put sideways things on top but in the end, it’s your dough, proper ingredients and a serious oven. And, for a snappy turnaround quick supper with (three) kids, fresh fast food thrust into their chirping bills, nowhere near KFC or the golden arches.
500 Degrees does what it says on the tin. The mosaic adorned wood-fired oven has pride of place. This dinky mini-chain is less hipster sourdough diner and more died in the wool traditional. Like the old Neapolitan days, where pizza tradition is borderline evangelical. Not everywhere has to have exposed industrial fittings, distressed brickwork and professional friendliness.
What I always loved about an Italian high-road pizza in the old days was it was always friendly family and family friendly. Warm in every sense. It is a compliment that 500 Degrees wouldn’t have looked that different back in the dim distant ’80s. And neither would the menu. I appreciate foraying into the offbeat, but not so much when it comes to pizza.
The menu is utterly reassuring. If you want avant-garde, find a different station. Calzone, tick. Classic margheritas, capriccioso, marinara, neopolitana, tick. Decent veggie and vegan options (which is a bit more 21st century), a few side salads and Moretti on tap. Questo e tutto.
The staff are super-friendly, someone’s kids (possibly the manager’s) are parked in front of steaming pizzas (and a laptop) and our pizzas arrive in a 500-degree blasted ten minutes.
Me and mine were in Amsterdam earlier this year. Somewhere between Anne Frank’s House and “the Van Gogh”, we found ourselves in a pizza place where, to keep the kids entertained, they were given dough to make their own animals, which then got cooked with our pizzas. Beats a few crayons and a marketing-led wordsearch.
Margherita with fior di latte cheese, scapece with zucchini (courgette), cherry tomatoes, pecorino and a classic mildly fiery diavola, fior di latte, salame picante and crushed tomatoes. Crispy bubbled and charred crust, pleasingly sponge-fluffy interiors, generous toppings and significant circumference. As in they are big. We are four, we were full with three. No room for tiramisu and affogato.
500 Degrees is a nice surprise, precisely for how unsurprising it is. If I was an Italian stumbling out of Brixton tube in need of home comfort, this is exactly the place I would want to tumble into. A little bit of Italy, unobtrusive, traditional, welcoming. Fast and economical. If you ever tire of (equally good) pizzerias doing sideways things with ’nduja sausage, fennel infused cured something or other, it’s nice to remember the old days. When life was simpler.
191 Ferndale Road, SW9 8BA | 0203 302 8106 | 500degrees.co/Brixton