FOR many Corkonians of a certain vintage, pizza was ‘born’ in the very early ’80s, in Pizzaland on Patrick St, arriving near-simultaneously with next-door neighbour Burgerland, both ‘game-changers’ in the city’s fast-food dining culture.
Featuring an all-you-can-eat salad buffet whose prosaic offerings eventually ground down all but the most primal of appetites, pizzas themselves were ‘deep dish’, industrial mozzarella and an especially grim tomato sauce reeking of dried herbs, yet all seemed wondrous to us ignorant natives, then still believing Easi Singles cheese slices to be an actual foodstuff.
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We’ve come a long way — these days, it is possible to get an Irish pizza near as good as you’ll find in the best pizza parlours in Italy and so great is the national grá for this pinnacle of human culinary achievement, we continually welcome further new arrivals with open arms.
Oak Fire Pizza (OFP) is a peppy little space, diners squeezed in cheek to cheek only adding to the quirky charm, and we are more than happy to cram our five respective posteriors into a tight corner. I order Kinsale Pale Ale, Current Wife, a generous and decent Montepulciano.
No 2 Son restricts himself to excellent crusty dough balls, glistening with garlic herb butter, dusted with Parmesan but the good work does not follow through to our pizzas: Bases are tight, overly dense, and ‘doughy’ and tomato sauce is shy of acidity.
Toppings could equally do with a tad more attention. No 1 Son’s Carne di West Cork is exceedingly generous with the ‘carne’ — Clonakilty Black Pudding, ham, chicken, though advertised Gubbeen Chorizo is nowhere to be seen — to the point that it overwhelms all.
CW’s Terroso (truffle oil, portobello mushroom, Macroom buffalo mozzarella) is overly-anointed with a truffle oil so jarring and one dimensional, I’d be quite surprised if it wasn’t an industrial replica, spoiling an otherwise decent pizza. La Daughter’s straightforward Margherita is probably the pick of the bunch.
Staff and service are excellent but the kitchen needs to step up; all the requisite elements are in place (I sampled much better OFP in West Cork some years ago), a little more care and attention should see things improve dramatically.
Burnt, across the street, is a much larger space. Save a high energy Italo-disco soundtrack, the ‘trattoria’ look is eschewed for a Miami Vice-meets-Berlin techno club feel: Paint-spattered concrete floors, marble table tops, monogrammed copper-plated cutlery, matte-black paint on anything else stationary; a sizeable local Italian following supplemented by Irish teens are lapping it all up.
La Daughter has Margherita, a primary benchmark.
This one is good: Tasty crust, blistered, chewy, crisp; bright San Marzano tomato sauce; Parmesan adding oomph to Mozzarella fior di latte, finished with fresh basil and good olive oil. No 1 Son obliterates Prosciutto e Funghi with olives, while my Salsiccia e Broccoli is well assembled — mozzarella, pecorino, broccoli, Italian pork sausage — even if fennel-laden sausage is a tad under-seasoned and — a first — I find myself salting pizza.
Best of the lot is CW’s Pollo al Pesto, roasted garlic-herb chicken and caramelised red onion in blissful union with creamy mozzarella and basil pesto. Having once seen chips as a pizza topping in Torino, I feel no shame in ordering a portion of home fries. They reward in kind: Handcut, crisp on the outside, fluffy within.
Desserts are a shakier proposition: The progeny naturally adore Chocolate Calzone — chocolate ‘pizza’ — but Neapolitan Chocolate Tart is underwhelming in its craft and ‘Homemade Italian Tiramisu’ defies the trade descriptions act on many levels.
Service on the night is pleasant and largely without mishap but it’s a little like admiring an exceptionally wobbly jelly: One slight push and the whole thing could come tumbling down.
So it is a relief to hear that the very sweet-natured if callow staff are soon to be bolstered by the arrival of a highly experienced front-of-house manager with a good local track record. All in all, it looks like Cork has another good pizza outlet on its hands — two, as soon as OFP sharpens up its act.
€130 (including drinks and wine, excl tip)