199 Cambridge Heath Rd, London E2 0EL
Is there any greater experience than the smell, taste, and radiating warmth of fresh dough? If that is made by the owner’s own dexterous hands in an unusually decorated pub just down the road from Bethnal Green station, mores the better.
Hannah Drye’s has popped up all over the city, starting trading in Brixton market during the great national distance. Starting her pie (pizza in Dough hand’s land) journey working in Pizzaface in Brighton she’s now snagged herself a permanent home in The Three Colts, Exale Brewery’s new venue from Monday to Saturday.
Imagine if you will a vaulted industrial cavern, looking a little like a working men’s club brought rather rapidly into the modern world. Gargantuan cacti stretch in one window and shuffleboard clacks away in a backroom. An impressive built-in wooden bar, added greenery, warm downlights, and pictures do their best to soften the edges of the concrete brutalist shell beneath, and overall succeed. But with it being August the cool kids are outside, drinking, playing cards, smoking, and demanding sustenance. Look London, dough hands (sorry I had to).
Now this is pizza, on pizza on pizza. Neo-Neapolitan (whatever that means), here dough is queen. The sides are garlic bread or deep-fried dough. There are dips, an emerald-hued caper variety which is a novelty for this jaded reviewer, and garlic mayo the expected soft orange. Then there’s the disks we know and love, no dessert, no chips, only olives, and pizza. Keeping it simple.
This is a brave choice, most likely born of necessity. Trouble brews however when due to lateness on our part (apologies and grovelling followed) a rush meant that there was a shortage of dough. Almost no hands, you could say. I love the idea of a rush on dough, like a rush on the pound but spongier, and more fragrant. A menu completely based on one ingredient and with only two chefs the flaw in the plan is almost (personally) disastrous. Our neighbours outside looked like they might eat their playing cards in frustration. The get-it-until-its-gone mentality might work in a food truck setting but rather falters in a residency.
Two domes are saved for this most grateful reviewer, and the earlier stampede is partly understood.
The Wildhands (special pie) is a slice of divinity; speckled with roasted AND pickled fennel, wild boar salami gives an earthy funk, with a creamy pecorino and splashes of bright red San Marzano tomatoes. I didn’t share, I just gobbled. There is of course the classic Margherita, Shroomy or an even simpler Tomato Pie (stop trying to make pie happen) for you of little bravery. But for the bolder sort, there are things that could be called experimental. Jode has the edition of Dr. Strings hot honey, and The Flaming Moe (a nickname I will be stealing) has Calabrian chili, artichoke, and aged mozzarella. Complex, no? There are pickles, confit tomato, whipped Ricotta, Mortadella, nduja, and egg yolk. Proving without a shred of doubt that we are far away from the chain end of the city’s pizza-Kinsey-scale. These are high-quality seasonal ingredients paired in surprising and toothsome ways. An interesting player in an admittedly crowded game.
Yet with experimentation, there are always casualties. Puttanesca (Italian for lady of the night) is a salty risk, capers, anchovies, salsa verde, and mozzarella combine for a brackish effect that isn’t particularly pleasurable. Picking at our can of swollen nocellara olives both Hannah and her business/culinary partner look rather rushed. Simple things like cutlery (optional) and napkins (a necessity) are forgotten.
Dough Hands is ideal if you want a steaming hot, fairly priced (under £15), freshly made circle crafted by someone who has a passion for the Italian classic. The space is a fresh and welcome addition to East London’s pub scene. Grab a Tzatziki IPA (containing lactose which makes sense, kind of) and natter the evening away. But get there early, when the dough is out Hannah is on her metaphorical bike, and no amount of love nor money will get you a pizza, anchovies, or no.
Check out the sizzling wonders here!