It’s thought that pizzerias account for nearly 20 per cent of all the world’s restaurants. This fact alone speaks volumes about the popularity of this humble Italian dish that has, over the years, been adopted and modified by hundreds of different countries and cultures. And Dubai is no different, with well over a hundred of the city’s restaurants serving this ubiquitous dish. But what makes pizza so popular?
Being the grizzled, investigative journalists we are, we researched this question thoroughly online. And the best answer we found? ‘Because they taste like hot sandwiches.’ Indeed. Aside from this interesting assertion, we believe that the pizza’s popularity is largely down to the fact that it consists of simple, cheap and tasty ingredients, which can be easily interchanged to suit the tastes of different cultures and ethnicities.
world and, more tenuously, USA Pizza Month this October, Time Out’s dedicated staff have eaten their way through 30 of the city’s top pizza restaurants to bring you Dubai’s very finest.
Al Barsha & Sheikh Zayed RdAl Fresco: The quattro stagioni is divided into four slices, so sharing it is a bit difficult, but the vegetarian is tasty, if not a touch bland. The base of each pizza is thin, but with a nice thick crust. All pizzas are one size (not so good if you’re feeling greedy).
Crowne Plaza Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 331 1111)
Quattro stagioni (Dhs52); Vegeteriana (Dhs56; with extra pepperoni)
Red Tomato Pizza: Red Tomato’s pizzas aren’t too heavy and certainly aren’t too light. The hand-tossed brown dough is hard to come by in Dubai and the toppings prove fresh and well-picked. Go for the spicy pollastrona with its marinated grilled chicken, roasted capsicum and touches of parsley, although you’d be hard pressed to find anything wrong with any of the other menu options – pretty, sweet, delicious.
Shop 7, Saleh bin Lahej Building, Al Barsha (800 866 286)
Spicy pollastrona (Dhs44)
Pizza Pazza: This budget chain boasts a traditional wood-fired oven and al-fresco seating area. Expect your run-of-the-mill pizza options here, though the cooking methods are reassuringly genuine – chefs toss dough in the air, slap it down on the work surface and apply toppings right in front of you. The quattro stagioni with extra chilli has a crispy crust, while the consistency and flavours of the topping are surprisingly decent. No-frills, classic pizza.
Al Barsha, next to Mall of the Emirates and Citymax Hotel (04 399 6628)
Quattro stagioni (Dhs45)
International CityPizzeria di Italia: The pizzas here lean towards New York’s Little Italy rather than Sicily, but they’re still decent. The Cagliari is brimming with mussels, squid, lobster and crab, among other seafood delicacies. For those not so keen on marine life, the heavier (and naughtier) quattro formagi will send you to cheese euphoria. This said, the pizzas can be bit on the floppy, messy side.
International City, Russia W9 (04 4329 700).
Cagliari (Dhs50); Four cheese (Dhs39)
Downtown burj khalifaMarzano: Wafer-thin bases demonstrate plenty of skill on the chef’s part, but means eating with hands can prove tricky. As such, the thin base can’t quite support the otherwise delightful ingredients of the con pollo. The funghi, meanwhile, manages to hold together a bit better.
Souk Al Manzil, Old Town(04 420 1136)
Con pollo (Dhs48); Fungi (Dhs44)
Satwa to Oud MethaMedzo: Flaky, thin crust meets a superb set of ingredients, from gooey buffalo mozzarella to sharp, ripe tomatoes. There may not be a massive selection, but the few options on offer make delectable savouries. The goat’s cheese pizza is topped with plump sun-dried tomatoes and zesty rocket, while the wood oven adds an authentic touch.
Wafi, Oud Metha (04 324 4100)
Goat’s cheese pizza (Dhs70)
Round Table: The cheese is congealed in parts and burnt in others, but there’s enough of it to hold the generous toppings in place (the King Arthur is a carnivore’s dream, laden with pepperoni, salami and beef). Unfortunately, the more-is-more toppings policy doesn’t translate well to the vegetarian option (a whole tin of sweetcorn on a small pizza is surely too much for even the most ardent fan of the Jolly Green Giant).
Al Dhiyafa Street, Satwa (04 398 6684)
King Arthur (Dhs54)
Jumeirah to umm suqeimLa Veranda: If you’re after fireworks, choose the Volcano – it’s the chef’s special and the one to go for. It’s stuffed with anything and everything (olives, peppers, tomatoes, ham, prawns and chicken), all beautifully laced together with soft mozzarella. This is the mother of all pizzas, and you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger and meaner pizza in town.
Jumeirah Beach Hotel (04 406 8999)
Toscana: The pizzas at Toscana boast fresh toppings, all held together with firm, yet stringy, cheese. Unfortunately, there isn’t nearly enough tomato base and the overall experience is more akin to a plate of garnished cheese on toast.
Souk Madinat Jumeirah (04 266 6730)
Half-diavola, half-margherita with extra mushrooms (Dhs65)
Itza Pizza: Though thin and crispy, an almost absent tomato base is overwhelmed by a thick layer of more (undercooked) veg than would fit in a reasonably-sized greenhouse. On our visit we ordered a second pepperoni pizza, though this was difficult to deduce given the stingy sprinkling of meat. Overall, the pizzas are inconsistent and lack flavour.
Beach Park Plaza (04 342 8280)
Fungi (Dhs44; with olives and green peppers); Pepperoni (Dhs42)
Dubai MarinaBussola: The thin yet firm and authentic-looking wood-fired delights at dine-in-only Bussola come in more than 30 incarnations. The calabrasi has a good amount of fresh tomato base, a tangy zing from the salami and a sweet aftertaste thanks to the bell peppers, while the white-base patate pizza is a rich ode to cream and carbs that will prove far too heavy for those with small appetites. This said, your indigestion will be easily soothed by the fact that you’re sitting on a beautiful roof terrace overlooking the Gulf.
The Westin, Al Sufouh Road (04 399 4141)
Calabrasi (Dhs78); Patate (Dhs60)
Papa John’s: Pizza purists will likely throw down the magazine in disgust when they read this, but on those hazy days after a night on the razzle dazzle, nothing quite lifts the spirits like a thick-crust all-meat pizza, complete with lashings of Tabasco and ketchup. There, we said it: ketchup.
Marina Diamond 4, Dubai Marina (04 430 9904)
Pizzeria: This homely Mediterranean-style restaurant boasts big wooden beams, brick features and shelves lined with glass ornaments, and it serves a sizable selection of pizzas (including the intriguing ‘pizza con fragile rucola e cioccolato bianco’ – fresh strawberries, rocket and white chocolate). Yet the quattro forma (which includes mozzarella, parmesan, marscarpone and taleggio) tastes more like a margherita, and we were left with a puddle of oil at the end.
Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa (04 399 5555)
Quattro forma (Dhs78)
Bice: The seafood pizza is stacked with squid, chunks of hammour, shrimp and even octopus, and the topping is certainly generous, spread right to the edges. Unfortunately it lacks cheese. The base, however, is a thick crust that gets a little soggy in the middle, what with the mass of toppings, but
it has a pleasantly crisp crust.
Hilton Dubai Jumeirah (04 399 1111)
Seafood pizza (Dhs110)
Ronda Locatelli: Locatelli’s mushroom-shaped wood-fired oven is the centrepiece of this eatery, and bodes well for the pizza. The base of the funghi pizza is thin and crisp, with not a hint of sogginess, despite the appropriately generous and perfectly seasoned tomato base. The mushrooms themselves are fresh and flavoursome.
Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626)
Luciano’s: This restaurant has an (unintentional) run-down feel, which makes it seem all the more authentic, as do the wood-fired ovens and the fact that the dough is made on site. The resulting pizzas boast fresh, tasty toppings – especially the pizza parma, with generous doses of rocket, parma ham and fresh cheese. The flavours of the Siciliana are not as distinctive as we’d like, but the pizza is still passable.
Habtoor Grand Resort & Spa (04 399 4221)
Pizza parma (Dhs70); Siciliana (Dhs70)
Piazza Italia: The vegetarian pizza isn’t bad, though the thin crust is brittle rather than chewy; the whole thing is saved by fresh toppings of buffalo mozzarella and tomato sauce. While the pizza is workmanlike, the venue, staff and Italian manager are all rather charming.
Dorra Bay, opposite Sheraton Jumeirah Beach (04 399 0039)
Vegetarian pizza (Dhs38)
Media & Internet CityVapiano: Vapiano’s is a lunchtime favourite of Media City’s brainy denizens, thanks to its selection of fresh Italian fare and reasonable prices. These factors are also applicable to the pizzas – the dough is made on site and diners can choose their topping. The Diavola, with pepperoni, peppers and mozzarella, tastes fresh, but is a little too soggy, which means the toppings spend more time on the plate than on the pizza crust.
Internet City, next to Media One Hotel (04 437 0786). Other location: The Dubai Mall (04 434 0454)
Certo: Certo does pizza with panache. Thin crust, hearth-baked and incorporating some of the finest Italian ingredients, it’s difficult not to love this pizza. There are a wide range of different toppings on offer: you can get yours made as a classic margherita, or with speck (cured beef) and scamorza (Italian cheese).
Radisson Blu Hotel, Media City (04 366 9111)
Garhoud to Festival CityCasa Mia: A capricciosa veggie pizza can be tricky to pull off (meat is a pizza’s best friend, after all), but cosy Casa Mia, tucked in the Méridien Village, almost gets it right. Cooked in a wood-fired oven, the crust manages to hold its own, even in the centre. There’s just the right amount of cheese on top, though the promising combination of tomatoes, artichokes, black olives and mushrooms is let down slightly by the overpowering flavour of the marinated peppers.
Le Méridien Dubai, Garhoud (04 217 0000)
La Vigna: La Vigna’s pizzas are cooked in wood-fired ovens and the dough is made in the rustic restaurant itself. The signature pizza boasts a generous and enjoyable selection of peppers, olives, onion, chicken, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and a light (albeit greasy) cheese and tomato base. The pizzas are thin-crust, so slices needed to be curled up while eating to avoid spillage.
Century Village, Garhoud (04 282 0030)
La Vigna signature pizza (Dhs65)
Mamma Oliva: Mamma Oliva boasts a wood-fired oven, where guests can watch their pizzas being cooked. However, any pretension of authenticity stops here – the margherita pizza we ordered was mediocre, suffering from too much cheese and not much flavour. The Ai Gamberi was worse, with a runny consistency that even the waitress seemed apologetic about.
Festival Centre, Dubai Festival City (04 232 8622)
Ai Gamberi (Dhs68); Margherita (Dhs48)
Jumeirah Beach ResidenceFrankie’s: This pizza is a pure, to-die-for Italian delight. Huge chunks of buffalo mozzarella are spread across the pizza, with freshly torn basil and cherry tomatoes scattered in between. This is simple cooking at its best, and is exactly what you’d expect to gorge yourself on if you ventured to an Italian city – no guilty feelings attached after devouring this. The crust is thin and doughy, meaning the toppings are prone to slippage, so it’s best to attack it with a knife and fork.
Oasis Beach Tower, The Walk at JBR (04 399 4311)
Stefano’s: The pizzas can be slightly soggy in the middle, although they work their way out to a crispier crust, with a wide variety of toppings. The pizza’s failings are partially forgiven (or made worse, depending on your outlook) thanks to the al-fresco seating area and the fact diners can enjoy their pizza while puffing on shisha.
The Walk at JBR (04 422 2632)
La Dolce Vita: The restaurant’s logo promises ‘a taste of Italy’, but we aren’t so sure: the cheese-heavy topping is prone to slipping off the slice and plummeting onto the plate. Eating pizza proves to be a messy affair, and not entirely tasty – the meagre amount of tomato paste is watery, while the beef pepperoni is drowned by the cheese.
The Walk at JBR (04 423 0785)
Thyme: Thyme is more Mediterranean than Italian, which may explain why pizza plays such a small part on the menu. The pepperoni and four-cheese options are dry, tasteless offerings that could well have come out of the freezer. Not a good representation of an otherwise solid restaurant.
Oasis Beach Tower, The Walk at JBR (04 315 4200)
Four cheese (Dhs46); Pepperoni (Dhs49)
Pizza Express: More of a British stalwart than an authentic Italian chain, Pizza Express is a safe – if uninspiring – bet for pizza-lovers, with a wide array of toppings and a ‘create-your-own’ option. The goat’s cheese and rocket toppings are generous and evenly distributed, and although the leaves refuse to stay put, that can be excused given their freshness. The thin-crust base can be a little floppy, but all in all this is a decent pizza venue with reliable home delivery service.
The Walk at JBR (04 370 1717; www.pizzaexpressdubai.com)
DIY goat’s cheese and rocket pizza (Dhs40); Diavola (Dhs34)
Napoletana: Napoletana’s quattro stagioni has plenty of topping – beef, olives, pepperoni, fresh mushrooms, mozzarella and oregano – but doesn’t entice the taste buds in terms of flavour. The rustica is topped with sautéed beef, beef ham, capsicum, mozzarella and oregano – a real meat lovers’ feast. The pizza bases are on the flimsy side, but don’t detract from the overall pizza experience.
The Walk at JBR (04 439 3708)
Quattro stagioni (Dhs46); Rustica (Dhs47)
800 PIZZA: The owner hails from Italy and is proud of his pizza – the fresh-tasting tomato base is given some kick with a delicious spicy sauce. The topping of crispy-round-the-edges pepperoni is nice and even; all in all a neat eat. Our only complaint? You can only get thin-pan,
which lets the toppings do the talking,
but the crust is pretty tasteless.
Takeaway only (800 74992)
Pepperoni (Dhs43; plus Dhs2 delivery charge)
How do you eat yours?A lot can be said about a person by the way they eat pizza
Pizzas in Italy are served whole, rather than being cut into slices before arriving at the table. As such, Italians tend to eat their national dish with a knife and fork, rather than grabbing at it with their mitts.
These are people who want their pizza and want it now. There’s no time for knives, forks or folding, and no qualms about treating their dining companions to views of the back of their throat – it’s simply a case of tilting back the head and lowering the pizza into
a gaping gob. Chewing is optional.
Not quite as conservative as the traditionalist, but a little more restrained than the dangler, the folder ensures the toppings stay put by folding the pizza slice lengthways before eating.
Crusties are a special breed of people who insist on eating the crust first: they usually do so by tearing it off and dipping it in ketchup or some other description of condiment. It’s thought that crusties subscribe to the motto ‘the best things come to those who wait’, because they’re effectively saving the tasty bit of the pizza until last. We just think it’s a bit odd.
Top feeders tend to be children aged four to 11 who insist on scraping the topping (mainly pepperonis) off the crust and eating separately. However, some fail to grow out of this habit and continue to infuriate their dining companions by dissecting their pizza in a most unsightly manner.
Three ways to make an Italian pizza chef angry1 Rave about American food (‘I just can’t get enough of burgers, hot dogs, and pizza!’ etc). Your life expectancy and/or time left in the restaurant will be reduced to a matter of minutes.
2 Ask for a pineapple on your pizza. Italians just don’t do fruit on pizza. Never. Ever.
3 Apply tomato ketchup. Ketchup was invented by British people to make their rubbish food taste marginally less rubbish. If an Italian chef sees you slather on the red stuff, he’s going to think you have the same regard for his food as you do British food. Not good.