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04.04.2017

Every food review has its moment of truth. Sometimes, it is a prompt lightning bolt, as blatant as the bling adorning your fellow diners. At other times, it is a tardy thunderclap, arriving along with a lengthy bill that magically transforms a pretty good meal into a stupidly overpriced one. In the case of Napoli Pizza, clarity sets in deep into our third quarter of a pepperoni-topped pie, which is clenched in one fist and hovering near the vicinity of the mouth, while we attempt to open a fresh beer with the other hand. This pizza is un-putdownable. That’s the truth, en medias breads.

Those Who Leaven

That start-up chefs have replaced start-up geeks as the new rockstars is evident in Jaisal Rathee’s  brief but lively career trajectory. After founding an online prices-and-deals aggregator in high school, and a channel for original viral YouTube videos in college, Jaisal had his own pizza epiphany (e-pie-phany?) at the ripe old age of 22.

It happened last year, in London, when Jaisal’s brother took him out for a Neapolitan-style pie, he tells us in a post-meal chat. Having grown up on Domino’s and Pizza Hut, he began wondering if there was a market in Delhi for a gourmet pie that hewed close to the Italian Ur-pizza, the pizza Napoletana, which even has its own international DOC-certifying association.

So of course, as soon as he got back to Delhi, he ordered an oven. “I had never made a pizza before November,” he tells us.

This pizza is un-putdownable. That’s the truth, en medias breads.

I Kneaded This

The oven, manufactured by Marco Cappiotti—an Italian who has been making wood-fire ovens in India for over two decades—is situated in a small “test kitchen” in Safdarjung. The chef—freshly graduated from a five-month course at the YouTube school of culinary arts—is Jaisal himself.

“Pizza is very difficult,” he confesses. “I still sometimes mess up.” But there are no mess-ups in our order, which arrives on the dot and still warm, despite being outside the usual delivery area.

We rip open partially vented cardboard boxes to reveal crusts bubbled up to a slight char, ringing shallow craters of tomato sauce splotched with mozzarella. Neapolitan pizza is soft and wet in the middle, and though Jaisal told us he had to make some recipe adjustments to ensure un-sloppy delivery, his pizzas arc seamlessly from gooey to chewy. The dough is traditional, with only yeast, salt, water, and extra-refined 00-grade flour imported from Italy. The canned tomatoes in the sauce are imported as well, from Campagna—“where they grow the juiciest”—though the tangy, salty topping itself is a modification of the Rathee family’s “secret recipe” for pasta sauce.

This Dough is Dear

We love the generous slices of pepperoni -- not from Italy, but local Indian suppliers, we’re told -- on the Napoli speciale, a pie inspired by a famous Brooklyn pizzeria Jaisal hasn’t yet visited, but counts among his muses. Its piquant, smoky meatiness is cut by the sharper spice of chopped green chillies, and the sweetness of drizzled honey.  A 'nduja sausage pizza, with roasted chunks of the spreadable salumi freckling its face is another favourite, though the greedier carnivores at our table express a desire for denser freckles. The red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, and onions on a “giardino” pizza feel like unnecessary ornamentals on a worthy margherita, but if you must have your vegetables (and won’t accept that pizza is one), go ahead and order it.

Pies are about 12 inches in diameter, a tentative one pizza-per-glutton ratio. We neglect the accompanying seasoning packets and concoct a bowl of our own olive oil and sea salt dip for residual crust-dunking. For now, all the pizzas are under Rs 500, and Jaisal wants to keep his margins low to build up a loyal (customer) base. Get ‘em while they’re hot, and pray he doesn’t burn out.

Getting there: Delivery only, with orders outside the Hauz Khas area on special request.  Call 33105791 to order, see the Facebook page for more information. Currently closed on Mondays.

bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.

This review was contributed by Sonal Shah, journalist and editor. Read more of her work on sonalshah.in.

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