In the wake of Hangfire Smokehouse setting up shop in Barry, another of Cardiff’s favourite food pop-ups lays down permanent roots – but will Dusty Knuckle’s team-up with Crafty Devil do the business?
When it comes to classic food pairings, it’s hard to beat beer and pizza – they go together like Maverick and Goose or Batman and Robin, albeit with less homoerotic subtext. It’s a simple equation really. Pizza makes you want beer; beer makes you drunk; being drunk makes you want pizza. It’s the circle of life.
So as you can imagine, Cardiff foodies have been getting pretty hot under the collar about the pizza slingers at Dusty Knuckle pairing up with the beer boffins at Crafty Devil Brewing Co to build a permanent home in Canton.
It’s a ballsy place for a pizzaiolo to set up shop. Calabrisella, a pizzeria so authentic it’s essentially a virtual reality simulation of Italy, is less than 100ft away; there are also a few pretty good Italian sit-down restaurants in the vicinity, and even local boozer The Lansdowne can knock out a decent Diavolo.
For the less discerning/too hungover to leave the house there’s also Pizza Hut (who should be on some sort of register for this abomination), Dominos (who I will turn to in times of desperation) and even a Papa Johns (which literally no-one likes).
But if anyone can pull it off, I think Dusty Knuckle can. Despite being in the game less than two years, Phill and Deb make pretty bloody spectacular pizza. And I’m not the only one who thinks so – the Sunday Times rates them among the top 25 in the UK, and they recently got an entry in the international Where to Eat Pizza guide, which apparently is a thing.
What’s so good about their pizzas then? The locally sourced and well thought out toppings help, but as Meghan Trainor wisely sang, it’s all about the base. Dusty Knuckle’s are so insanely light it’s like eating an enjoyably crispy cloud, with just a hint of smokiness from the wood oven thanks to the charring on the edges.
But perfect pizza deserves a permanent home. Thanks to Rhys and the folks at Crafty Devil and a few weeks of backbreaking labour, Dusty Knuckle finally has one. Through a combination of blind luck and presumably a clerical error I was lucky enough to get an invite to check out Dusty Knuckle’s new digs before it opened to the public.
The courtyard looks like the inside of Jamie Oliver’s head – it’s wall to wall with reclaimed wood, upcycled tin cans and fairy lights – there’s even a herb garden. If it was any more hipster friendly it’d have a handlebar moustache, and I’m sure it’s destined to star in a thousand Instagram posts.
I do wonder about the temperature – it’ll be great in the summer, but they might struggle a bit when the weather turns. Thankfully there’s a retractable roof for the Cardiff monsoon season that runs from April to May. And then from July to September.
On to the grub, and as I mentioned before, Dusty Knuckle’s pizza differentiates itself with local ingredients. This is fiercely Welsh pizza, and none more so than the Blas Y Mor. With cockles, bacon and laverbread all making an appearance, it’s as Welsh as Charlotte Church doing a duet of Delilah on karaoke with the ghost of Dylan Thomas.
There’s a distinct nautical note to the flavour as you might expect, but the smokey meatiness of the bacon keeps it in check and balances everything nicely – even if you’re not great with shellfish (or whatever the hell cockles are, I don’t know, I’m not David bloody Attenborough) I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this.
The Pepperoni is also great – full of big, rich, stick to your ribs flavours, with serious hunks of spicy sausage made specially for Dusty Knuckle by Charcutier Ltd. It bears zero relation to the thinly sliced mystery meat you get at your bog-standard pizza chain, adding texture as well as taste.
But the unexpected star of the show for me is the Goats Cheese with Garlic Pesto. Be warned – this is alarmingly garlicky, but that’s what makes it work so well. Goats cheese can be a big bully of a flavour, but the wild garlic pesto knocks seven bells out of it while the sweet and spicy roquito pepper calms them both down like their sensible best mate.
The Perl Las – featuring the eponymous Carmarthenshire blue cheese and purple sprouting broccoli – was probably the only pizza that didn’t knock my socks off – the cheese was top notch, but I wonder if it needs a little something else to liven up the broccoli. It could just be the carnivore in me talking though.
But there’s more to life than pizza, right? “Pizza Schmizza, what else you got?!” you might say, perhaps in a Brooklyn accent while shrugging like Robert De Niro. Well that’s where Dusty Knuckle’s secret weapon comes in.
They’ve enlisted the help of a crack team of Welsh foodies to create a range of starters and desserts to complement their pizzas, with the likes of Inner City Pickle, Gwynne’s Ice Cream and Charcutier Ltd all providing key elements. It’s like the Avengers, but with more focus on dairy products.
The salad, the mozzarella platter and the goat’s curd (guys, please come up with a more appetising name for that last one) all have a pickled element that gives them an unexpected lift – the apple and mint slaw and Mexican-style pink pickled onions are especially good.
Things get a bit more lah-di-dah with the dessert menu – you might expect hearty pub grub favourites like chocolate fudge cake or cheesecake, but DK have gone a lighter route. There’s chocolate mousse and panna cotta, given a herby twist with rosemary and bergamot respectively. Top marks for even making rhubarb – satan’s own vegetable – appealing, by poaching it with cardamom.
These touches work well, preventing things from getting too sickly – important if you’re a greedy idiot like me. And then there’s the ice cream – normally it’d be a last resort for me, but in this case it’s obscenely creamy, with a satisfyingly crunchy honeycomb topping – well played Gwynne’s Ice Cream.
Speaking of collaborations, it’s also worth mentioning The Devil’s Knuckle – a wit beer that Crafty Devil have brewed especially to pair with the goat’s cheese pizza.
Because I’m essentially a functioning alcoholic, I’d downed mine long before the food arrived, but I can see how they’d pair well – it’s like being blasted in the face with a shotgun full of hops, lemongrass and orange peel (in a nice way), and would be more than capable of dealing with the richness of the cheese.
Verdict: Little pizza heaven
You can now buy Dusty Knuckle’s stellar pizzas in the same place as Crafty Devil’s top notch craft beers every weekend, and enjoy them while sat in the sun. What more do you want?
It’s also heartening that Dusty Knuckle aren’t just catering for high-falutin’ Pontcanna folk – everything on the menu is under a tenner. Regardless of where you stand on supporting local business or the provenance of ingredients, compare that to the £15 or more you’d pay at Dominos or Pizza Hut and it’s a no-brainer.
Is Dusty Knuckle and Crafty Devil a match made in heaven or hell? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @fuudblog…
* Pic by Huw John, Cardiff, supplied by Golley Slater.