Otto’s pizzas pack a hearty punch with cornmeal crusts and generous toppings
What exactly is it that makes a pizza a pizza? This was the question we came back to time and time again while eating lunch at Otto, the UK’s first purveyor of cornmeal-crust pizza. Unlike more traditional pizzas which have bases made using wheat flour, the founders of this small, informal restaurant off Westbourne Grove use mainly cornmeal, a trick they picked up on a road trip through Oregon. The result is an unusual dish that bears little resemblance to its Italian siblings, but is no less enjoyable for it.
Using cornmeal, explains Otto’s website, makes the bases stronger and more robust than you’d find with a normal pizza. This is a difference you notice immediately: the golden-brown crusts are crunchy rather than crispy and dense rather than doughy, with a wholesome flavour you might sooner expect in a quiche than a pizza.
It’s worth noting that while the standard crusts do contain some wheat flour, Otto also offers an option that is made without wheat or gluten; a welcome innovation for those who are wheat or gluten intolerant and have been unable to enjoy pizza as a consequence.
One benefit of the solid bases is that they can support a lot more topping than your average pizza and this is something the chefs at Otto take full advantage of. Pizzas come out heaving with ingredients and diners should not take lightly the menu’s recommendation to stick with only two or three slices per person.
Otto sells its pizza by the slice and offers seven different toppings on its menu, supplemented by three specials that change every couple of days. We went for the Taster option which is made up of six different slices selected by the chef from the full range available that day, and is pretty good value at £20. Being prone to food envy we were reluctant to miss any of the intriguing flavour combinations, so ordered another four slices to cover off the remaining choices and complete the set.
The toppings you find at Otto are as unorthodox as the base. Strong, distinctive flavours are needed to act as a counterpoint to the thick crust making the Blue ‘Room’s combination of gorgonzola, tomato and marinated mushroom a surprise favourite. Garlic features heavily in a number of options while fresh herbs like thyme and rosemary lend some extra zing to more subtle combinations like Ham & Pear or Goats Cheese & Roasted Tomato.
The table was divided by the spicy Red Lentil Kofte and the Olive Tapenade, while the Otto take on old favourites Pepperoni and Four Cheese were well received all round. A salad of mixed greens had perhaps a little too much dressing but provided crucial diversion from the solid mass of ten slices that eventually defeated our group of four.
Ultimately we concluded that yes, what you get at Otto can legitimately be called a pizza, though if you go there hoping to find the classic Italian dish, you’ll likely be disappointed. That being said, we do like it there and would definitely recommend trying it out if you are in the area and feeling adventurous. And hungry.
1 Whole Taster
1 Slice Goats Cheese & Roasted Tomato
1 Slice Olive Tapenade
1 Slice Leek & Potato
1 Slice Leek & Bacon
1 Large Mixed Greens Salad
1 San Pellegrino Litre
6 Chepstow Road