West is best when it comes to pizza in Cardiff – but could Eastsiders The Brass Beetle soon be challenging for the crown? Let’s find out…
Cardiff bloody loves pizza. While news of yet another burger joint sprouting up in the CF postcode tends to lead to exasperated eye-rolls among us poncey foodie types, the abundance of pizza places never seems to draw quite as much flak. I guess as a wise man once (sort of) said, “When a man is tired of pizza he is tired of life itself”. And I tend to agree.
Those in search of the city’s finest will find it hard to beat the examples on offer in the ever expanding Pontcanton area. When you’ve got Cardiff pizza’s first family Dusty Knuckle, Italian stallions Calabrisella, promising newbies Doughthrower and mobile mozzarella maestros Ffwrnes all within a few minutes walk of each other, it’s hard to justify a visit anywhere else.
But what about the other side of town? Yesterday, after waiting for Storm Brian to downgrade itself from ‘Blessed’ to ‘Conley’, @BlysiauBach and I finally headed over to Whitchurch road to check out the not-that-new-anymore Brass Beetle, along with Pete and Helen, victims of the very first Fuud blog.
First of all, it has to be said – this place looks FIT. The bar/waiting area in particular is gorgeous, all teal, gold (well, brass I suppose) and artfully battered leather Chesterfield sofas. Essentially, it’s that Pinterest board you started for your next house even though you can’t afford any of it.
As we arrived a bit early it seemed rude not to have a cocktail while waiting; the selection is good without being bewildering, and their Espresso Martini is a really well balanced specimen. It packs a mean caffeine punch, mind. To the extent that I gabbled on like a coked-up 6-year-old for the first fifteen minutes of the meal. But I can hardly blame BB for that.
Pete was equally complimentary of his chilli-spiked Spicy Margarita, and the mocktails – made pretty much to order with whatever you like – went down well too. Beer-wise there’s not a huge choice unfortunately – Punk IPA is likely your best option. It’s a pizza place, not a bottle shop at the end of the day of course, though a chat with Pops & Hops just down the street about getting some more exciting options in couldn’t hurt.
Speaking of pizza, what about the main event? Well, Brass Beetle pride themselves on using out of the ordinary toppings, and more power to them for it. That said, on paper the current special – 54-46 – sounds like a horrorshow. Caramelised banana, jerk pulled chicken, mango salsa and mozzarella – you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all a bit… ninja turtles.
But while any Italians within a hundred metres of Whitchurch Road would have burst into flames the second it was chalked onto the board, I have to admit it wasn’t bad at all. Rather than overpowering everything, the sweetness of the banana actually tied together the tangy mango and the earthy chicken pretty well. I’d have liked a bit more oomph in the jerk but overall, fair play.
Their cockle, samphire, laverbread and bacon effort is solid too. While it goes bigger on the toppings than Dusty Knuckle’s seminal Blas-Y-Mor, I think the original just about edges it by being a bit more balanced, but this version is not to be sniffed at.
The real star of the show was the sweet chorizo, roast heritage tomato, honey and mozzarella though. Hardly surprising, as it’s a scientifically verifiable fact that chorizo can improve anything – aside from the Trump Presidency, Highlander 2 and parking tickets.
Brass Beetle’s tomato sauce is much herbier and tangier than most, and it plays extremely well with the sweet spiciness here. I feel like there might be a bit of fennel in there too, which gets on like a house on fire with spicy pork. Either way, this is an excellent pizza, and I’d have it again in a heartbeat.
The ham hock, Perl Las and wild mushroom would definitely be my second choice though. This ain’t your daddy’s Farmhouse – the juicy, salty chunks of ham, intensely savoury mushroom and creamy, pleasantly funky cheese would all be great individually, but together they’re the best team-up since that episode of the A-Team with Boy George in it.
The sides are worthy of a mention too. Halloumi fries are quickly becoming ubiquitous, and Brass Beetle’s take on everyone’s favourite deep-fried dairy-based life-shorteners is damn fine. The cheesy garlic bread can’t really be faulted either, though I think I’ve woken up today with a gluten intolerance given the amount I consumed.
Dessert time, and pistachio and raspberry cheesecake sounded like a fine idea. In practice though, the raspberries don’t seem to have got the invite to this particular pistachio party. As a result, while it’s super rich it’s not quite sweet enough, making it a bit of a battle to finish.
Fair play to the staff though – they clocked that it wasn’t going down too well and took it off the bill. In fact, hats off to the staff all round – service was ace, and super accommodating.
Let’s cut to the chase then – who does better pizza? East or West? Well, I may be biased seeing as I live there, but despite Brass Beetle’s sterling efforts I think the title still belongs in the wild wild west.
The Brass Beetle’s pizzas don’t have quite the light, crispiness of the very best wood fired examples that you can pick up over by ‘ere. That said, you’d do well to visit if you’re ever on their side of the tracks – their innovative, ballsy toppings, cracking cocktail menu and seriously sexy decor are certainly worth checking out.
Is the Westside still home to the nicest slice or am I talking out of my Beetlebum? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter at @fuudblog…