When someone gives you free reign of their kitchen, and all its carefully thought-out, lovingly imported produce, it’s polite to try and avoid sending it all up in smoke. So belated apologies to Pi Dubai owners Rami Badawi and Amber Haque, who were probably not expecting to have to hover over me with fire extinguishers (and an awful lot of oven cleaner) after inviting us in for a morning of pizza-making frivolity at their new Dubai Mall restaurant.
While my hair net game was instantly strong (very ’50s turban, if I do say so), it quickly became apparent that my pizza-making skills were not.
Pronounced “pie”, the restaurant is the entrepreneurial, Dubai-based, married couple’s second venture in the city’s culinary arena – their first being Business Bay delivery joint The Pizza Guys, which distributes New York-style pizzas across the city. This second business follows the same ingredients-centric ethos (more on that later), but its short menu focuses on Neopolitan-style cooking, albeit with a few gourmet twists – think wagyu beef meatballs and artichoke cream with wild shrimp. At the heart of Pi’s entire menu is a very specific, 200-year-old recipe for dough – Rami and Amber are all about that (two-day-proofed) base. The slow proofing process allows the gluten levels to drop and the probiotic levels to rise, making digestion easier and leaving the final product with a light, springy and crisp crust. All the better for your next glorious carb binge.
Initially impressed with my knife skills while preparing tomatoes for the sauce, Rami’s eyebrows begin to climb towards his hairline during the dough-shaping portion of the programme. After a demonstration from one of the restaurant’s pizza chefs, resulting in one of the tastiest, crispiest yet sloppiest (the highest possible compliment) margheritas I’ve eaten in almost a decade in Dubai, we begin. Using a two-day-proofed recipe, gently removed from its box and plopped into a pile of flour, I begin prodding the centre, working the dough outwards. By the time it’s ready to lift up and gently rotate around the knuckles to stretch, the base should have a uniform, circular shape, though mine soon begins to take on the droopy appearance of a timepiece that’s had a run-in with Salvador Dalí. Amber, the day’s “voice of Naples”, insists that a pizza is supposed to be imperfect – a marker that everything has been done by hand. But quick as a flash, Rami, on Team New York, nips the billowing air bubbles in my crust and gently nudges the base into a more symmetrical disc, before scooting it back across, ready to be layered with toppings.
Eye-popping lengths have been gone to in sourcing almost every ingredient in the kitchen. Of the more than a dozen different cheeses on the menu, just two of them are made in the UAE, including a fresh mozzarella. Almost everything has a certification, grading or prestige, right down to the classically trained chef – he of the artichoke cream and also the restaurant’s mystically, literally melt-in-the-mouth pizza dough gnocchi.
I begin assembling Pi’s classic margherita, swirling sauce onto my dough and ripping up and scattering about an entire ball of mozzarella, before adorning with four basil leaves and a 9-shaped swirl of high-quality olive oil. After gently dragging the final product onto the peel (that long, unwieldy shovel bakers use), I eject my lovingly assembled pizza into the oven. With “a quick flick of the wrist”, the base and half my mozzarella land straight on the furnace’s stone bottom. Swiping haphazardly beneath the base with the banjo peel (a smaller, rounder version) to prevent it burning, in a mere 15 seconds I have calzone. Sadly, not on purpose. As more toppings begin to slide off the pie and start to burn, filling the oven with smoke, I call for help and my half baked, half-moon-shaped mess is retrieved.
Luckily, there is no risk to your next lunch here. Pi’s got expert pizzaiolos on hand, and despite my pleas, won’t be offering me a job anytime soon. Time to hang up my peel for now, but I’ll be a Spanish surrealist if you’re getting me out of this hair net.
Head to www.timeoutdubai.com for Pi Dubai's at-home margherita recipe. LG level, The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, www.pidubai.com (04 447 175704 447 1757).
Four to try Pi Dubai bestsellers
Pizza dough gnocchi
An excellent example of Pi’s dough’s versatility (it is also made into loaves for bruschetta), the gnocchi can be ordered two different ways – pan-roasted with tomato sauce and fresh zaatar, or poached and then coated in a Parmigiano-Reggiano cream. Nowhere near as heavy as you’re imagining.
One of the restaurant’s most consistently popular pizzas (and also a popular choice at the owner’s Pizza Guys delivery joint), this one comes topped with house-made wagyu beef meatballs, fresh fior di latte mozzarella, san marzano tomatoes and a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Wagyu meatball lasagne
All of Pi’s pasta is made fresh, in-house (the freezer is only used for storing its house-made gelato). Sheets of pasta are layered with mozzarella di bufala, roasted tomato and sliced wagyu meatballs. The whole thing is topped with seared wagyu beef scaloppine and shredded cheese.
This is the ultimate cheese-carb blow-out, but you’re unlikely to regret it (just maybe go for a swift half-marathon beforehand). Roasted Ratte potatoes cosy up to three cheeses – stracciatella di burrata, fior di latte mozzarella and feta, for good measure – fresh oregano and fried lemons.