A new Sydney pizzeria has Massimo Bottura's seal of approval.
There's tip-offs, and then there's tip-offs. It was Massimo Bottura, the owner of Osteria Francescana, who worded us up about the pizza at Al Taglio. How a chef who lives in Modena knew about a Surry Hills pizzeria less than a month old is beyond our understanding - maybe that's one of the reasons his restaurant was recently named the world's best.
Anyway, the maestro knows his stuff. The pizza is very interesting indeed. It's quite unlike anything else in town.
Al Taglio, pronounced something like "al-tahl-yo", takes its name from the term "pizza al taglio", which translates broadly as pizza by the slice. This new venue, which sits on Albion Street a block up from Reuben Hills, is not the first place in Sydney to do pizza al taglio - that is, pizza made on bases that are cooked in advance and then cut and heated to order - but it does it with unusual finesse.
There's no claim to classicism in the toppings. It's not tandoori-chicken territory, mind you, but shredded lamb with spinach and mint makes an appearance, and the vegan number makes magic with cauliflower, puréed pumpkin and strips of tofu laid over a cannellini cream and sprinkled with black sesame.
The more familiar baked-to-order round pizze (owner-chef Enrico Sgarbossa is reluctant to use the word "Neapolitan" here), which are offered only at dinner, deploy a buffalo-milk crema with tomato and basil on the Margherita, and smoked mozzarella and mortadella on the Mortazza.
Your southern-Italian nonna's head might be spinning around at this point, but before you call for the holy water and exorcist, take a close look at those bases. They're what Al Taglio is all about.
Al Taglio's margherita with tomato, crema di bufala and basil.
To say Sgarbossa knows his dough is something of an understatement. He took out the top spot in the Giro Pizza di Europe competition in 2014, and placed in the top three again this year. He comes to pizza-making from a milling background - Molino Dallagiovanna, a flour mill just outside Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna, employed him as a "pizza master and consultant". At Al Taglio he uses a cereal called tritordeum, which he describes as a cross between durum wheat and a wild barley. "It's rich in protein and doesn't have a lot of gluten."
Where sometimes pizza can leave you feeling bloated and sluggish after the eating-frenzy glow has passed, this stuff is surprisingly light, and leaves you sated but happy. ("I hope you have a nice meal and feel great after," reads the rather sweet note on the menu.) If you've eaten at Pizzarium, Gabriele Bonci's al taglio place in Rome, you'll understand the difference really good dough can make.
There's a bit of wine on offer, but as befits a business run by a fella with a serious working knowledge of grain, craft beer is the thing here: Surry Hills pils, a Pyrmont rye IPA, Paddo Pale, and three beers from Labi, a brewery from Bassano del Grappa, Sgarbossa's home town. (Fun fact: the birramisù, the sole dessert on offer at Al Taglio, is flavoured with Labi's La Nera stout.)
And though it might seem strange to say it, the best thing on the premises might not be pizza at all. Sgarbossa makes a focaccia all'olio that's so good it'll have you wondering how this wonder-bread ever fell from fashion. Try it with a few slices of salumi, with mortadella, stuffed with vegetables or just as it is - just get it any way you can.
Al Taglio, 102-104 Albion St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 8021 5944, altaglio.com.au; open lunch Tue-Sat, dinner Tue-Sun.