Basta Pizza Bar

Glasgow

A FRIEND emailed out of the blue recently to say he was thinking of opening a pizza restaurant in Edinburgh and what did I think? I thought he was mad, completely mad. The world doesn’t need any more pizza. But I didn’t say that. What I did said was this: first check out Paesano in Glasgow city centre. It’s a pizza phenomenon. Provenance (that’s the ovens and chefs), big buzz and most of all good prices.

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Haven’t heard a word from him since. He may have fainted. Anyway, I can’t believe the people at Basta on the fringes of Glasgow’s west end haven’t had a look at Paesano. They would be mad not to, even though this place is at the opposite end of the investment scale.

This is not much more, in fact, than a little shop-front restaurant at the sleepier end of Dumbarton Road. There’s no wood-fired oven expensively imported from Naples, no Italian pizzaiolo fronting up a Scottish venture, even though both are important in Paesano’s success. No cut-throat pricing either and most of all no restaurant designers have been anywhere near this place. Or if they have they have hidden it well amongst the hip and youthful, naturally kitschy feel.

There are, of course, Strianese brand San Marzano tomatoes and Polselli flour – both from Naples.

Now, that may have been big news back in my Nonna’s day when anything from Italy took an age to get here and cost a fortune. But today, when both of these are available to anyone at a press of an internet button? Hmm. Not really.

And I don’t like to be the guy at the back raising his hand but, hello, these are not even Napolitan-style pizzas they make here. If you want one of those with its floppy, doughy base then go to Paesano, where they do make a very good, if occasionally underfired, one.

The pizzas here come out of the decidedly uncool, excuse the pun, fully electric oven through the back. They’re fired to within an inch of their lives. The crusts are blistering, the bases are crisp and almost uniformly and correctly tan in colour, the tomato sugo on top is reduced and dark and red and not in any way thick, just like it used to come out of our coal-fired oven at home.

On my sausage and red onion pizza the oven heat, or the time it's been in there, has reduced the mozzarella right down to creamy blotches across the whole thing and for a moment I think, uh-oh have they overcooked this? The answer is no, but that pizza chef we saw standing here with a trickle of sweat on his brow cut it fine.

Now, we’re only here tonight because one of Cal’s pals claims the pizza here is better than Paesano. And because Luca and Shona are both big Paesano fans.

Is it? The answer is simply this: not better, completely different. The secret’s not in the oven or the toppings – and we actually have a Cullen skink one with smoked haddock and potato – it's in the dough. The crust is chewy, there’s a lot of flavour in it, there’s absolutely no bubbling across the base and it smacks not of the Italian pasta madre sourdough, but just a good slow rise.

We all liked the deeply green and tangily flavoured spinach and goats cheese croquetas to start. Nobody, however, was much interested in the curious chicken-on-stick thing because: 1) it wasn’t on a stick, there was just a stick on the plate beside it; 2) it was simply dry and not very flavourful deep-fried chicken nuggetty things. I’d ditch them.

The pizzas here are kind of like the pizzas we make most summers in my sister’s oven not that far from Naples, though there they are as thin as biscuits and just as crisp.

The point is this: there’s no right pizza. There’s just a right taste. And they have that here.

Basta Pizza Bar

561 Dumbarton Road

Glasgow

0141 339 8698

Menu: Can there really be anything else to do with pizza? Simple menu, simple presentation, good pizza dough which is full flavoured, crisply fired yet still chewy. 4/5

Atmosphere: Quirky wee place, feels low spend and low tech but still comfortable and spacious. 4/5

Service: Staff are friendly and laid back. There’s enough of a we’re-serious-about-this vibe to make it feel different from the usual pizza joint. 4/5

Price: Pizzas £6.50 to £9.50. Maybe a bit saltily priced at the top end but they are good. 4/5

Food: The pizzas were well-fired, crisp, technically excellent, lightly topped and properly sourced. OK, there's no wood-fired oven and they’re different from en vogue Napolitan pizzas – but excellent dough. 8/10

Total 24/30