It’s a hot August day, with a warm wind blowing off the sea, when I visit the Great British Pizza Company, a small studio-sized Pizzeria on Margate’s Harbour Arm.
With the impressive architecture of the recently-opened Turner Contemporary Art Gallery behind me, the sea ahead and the buzz of people mixed with the plaintive cries of the seagulls, I soon locate the iconic red 1974 Volkswagen Camper van (known as Gus) which marks the Great British Pizza Company’s unit as well as being home to Henry, a friendly Great Dane who lolls lazily in the back of the van, lapping up attention paid to him by customers.
The company is owned by Lisa Richards, a social media consultant, and Rachel Seed, a trained chef, and there is no mistaking their enthusiasm for their company and for Margate (boasting the best “Margateritta” pizzas in town!). Lisa tells me that they have her father to thank for setting them on course for a career in pizzas when in answer to her question if he could have anything to eat what would he choose, he replied, “I want something simple – one of those pizzas cooked in an oven with wood in it.” At the time she was unable to satisfy his request but she did find a wood fired oven for sale, and that was the beginning. They started with mobile catering – shows, festivals, parties – but, having fallen in love with the town over past visits, they decided to move to Margate. Lisa chips in, “Every time we visited there was something new. You could feel the effects of Turner Contemporary; we kept meeting cool people every time we came. The art theme was a strong part of it…” and Rachel, gesturing towards the sea and sands, adds, “It’s a fantastic office, isn’t it?”
Their opening night was a brilliant success; more than a hundred people turned up and, since, they have steadily built up a loyal, local following as well as catering for day trippers and holiday makers. What everyone takes away from this place is incredible food that comes with the added experience of seeing it cooked in front of them in the wood-fired oven. The aroma of fresh baking dough and sizzling toppings heightens the pleasure of eating in the open air under the cloud-scudded Turner skies accompanied by a crisp glass of wine (Lisa tells me that when they took on the unit they found they had the added bonus of an alcohol license!).
It’s not just the friendly service, the quirky camper van and the antique delivery bicycle (which Lisa can be seen trundling round Margate delivering pre-ordered hot pizzas) that have made them such a well loved part of Margate’s seafront; their wood fired pizzas really are fantastic with a thin, crispy base and a delicious choice of pizza fillings. I am treated to a pepper, courgette, goats’ cheese and oregano pizza which I can honestly say is the best pizza I have ever tasted – the home cooked tomato sauce is a unique blend of flavour while the vegetables are fresh and succulent. They offer a range of tasty toppings with a different “special” each week such as chorizo and chili, Parma ham and rocket, and for those with a sweet tooth pear, nutella and banana. All the ingredients are locally sourced wherever possible and the dough is always homemade, carrying the subtle flavours of the wood. This, combined with a slow-cooked tomato sauce produces a rich fusion of flavours. The pizzeria also uses no gas at all – “sticking to basics!” they say, cheerfully.
“These are exciting times,” Lisa says towards the end of our chat and I can’t help but agree; these truly are exciting times here in Margate, a town which has been through many transformations being once a small fishing port whose vivid sunsets inspired Turner’s paintings of light, and then a seaside resort eventually torn apart in the sixties by vicious clashes between mods and rockers… Now Margate is known as being a hub of artistic excellence and innovation, spearheaded by Turner Contemporary. The Great British Pizza Company fits in well with the town’s new and vibrant culture, and is definitely worth including as a stop in any seaside day trip.
Words Rose-Marie O’Brien
For more information go to www.greatbritishpizzacompany.wordpress.com
Great British Pizza Company are also opening their first restaurant on Margate seafront on the 5th October 2012.