This is going to sound ridiculous, but I do not think I’ve ever eaten a pizza and said to myself, ‘Golly! That’s the most amazing thing I’ve put in my mouth’. Granted, I’ve never said the word ‘golly’ out loud, but now that I have, for the first time, I doubt I ever will. I think I might have felt the requisite feelings in New York though, at a Neapolitan pizzeria in Greenwich Village, but that was nearly ten years ago. However, I do remember it clearly, an indelible food memory scorched onto my mind by a large wood-fire oven, us sitting on a long table in the cave-like den, eating fresh slices of pizza while the adults clinked glasses of wine.
I was allowed to stand close to where the pizza men were working. The chef spun discs of dough over my head with performative glee and stretched each one out on his board with his fingers. I remember thinking the dough was so wet it was like powdery white slime. How appetising. He let me hold the large spear shaft of the massive pizza ladle and helped me push a pizza in to the oven with the classic throw, jerk and pull. He put a finger to his lips and told me not to tell his boss. I have kept his secret all these years.
I remember feeling the searing heat of flames on my face, like at my first bonfire as a boy scout, and the smell and the sight of bread and melting, bubbling cheese that made me gasp in both surprise and with boyish ecstasy.
I suppose that it is because of this early experience of pizza transcendence, one I’ve cherished and evolved in my mind over the years, that I have become the pizza snob that I am. Especially when criticising good pizza. Oh, it’s good I’d say, but the crust is a little too spongy, the base is like al dente pasta and the cheese slides off too easily; the toppings are perfect but, ooh not quite that combination, or stodgy, burnt, oily, etc; hmm…I’m a bit iffy on this one, the yeast smell in the crust is far too strong, and I do not understand the allure of sweet corn. I will eat it most of pizzas put before me, pizza is pizza, but I am the first to tell you what is wrong with them. Needless to say, I have never had the perfect pizza, and at Brick, a sourdough pizza institution in Norwich, I didn’t either.
I apologise for the anti-climax but this is a good review. At least in this critic’s spectrum of pizza perfection, Brick Pizzeria do well indeed, so do read on.
This is a small pizzeria overlooking the Norwich market, with its visible wood-fired oven, and open kitchen that every pizzeria these days seems to have. The interior, as you’ve probably guessed, is brick finished with a few tables neatly arranged and a bar against the glass window to look outside of. When you eat at Brick, the server does not take the order at the table, but rather you go up and place it at the counter. It is a bit weird. It feels like you’re eating at a deli or a café but I suppose it could be a ploy at making sure the customer sees that the pizzas are made fresh to order, ‘hand-thrown’ as they describe it, and placed in the oven right in front of your eyes.
Their music playlist is nuts but in a good way. One moment you could be bouncing to some Illmatic hip hop, the next rolling to some jazz, and at the end, leave the restaurant nodding your head to the Wombats. The most important thing is that you don’t notice the transitions. You only realise the change of music by the way the cadence of the conversation changes, or when the tempo of your gestures deviates. It’s fascinating.
Sitting in the centre of the room is not a good idea. Every five minutes someone pokes their head in and suddenly you are hit in the face with the outside cold you wanted to escape. Not pleasant in the slightest; the heat of the oven does not get that far. Avoid this spot, or else keep your coat and scarf on.
The matela at Brick is not a fantastic pizza, nor is it some sort of extraordinary assemblage. It does, however, hit all the right places on my palate, every time. I did not pick the pizza for its ingredients. I had already made my way through most of Brick’s menu by then (each pizza delicious in its own way), but rather it was my first bite, and then the second, that made me realise that the matela was made for me. We just got each other. The simple combination of spicy sausage, with onions and spinach, on an almost wafer-thin crust with gooey cheese and a delightfully sweet tomato sauce. It was like meeting a long-lost brother, or sinking into your bed after a long vacation abroad. I must reiterate, there is nothing particularly special about this pizza. In fact, a couple of times I’ve had to eat it with cutlery because the crust was too thin to hold the weight of the toppings. I still enjoyed it though, the flavours stayed consistent. A drizzle of chilli oil, and I’m already salivating.
Maddy loves her porcini mushroom pizza. She refuses to try anything else. And it seems to be the same with other people I’ve visited with, that Brick makes their customers form bonds with pizzas that they hadn’t previously felt anywhere else. Is it just the fact that they pick wholesome ingredients, have respectable recipes? Or is it that there is more magic at play here, a secret to be unravelled. Probably not, but I am glad I found them.
You must order the garlic bread at Brick too. It is pizza base with garlic oil and cheese, addictive and moreish in all the ways well-made garlic bread should be.
A special shout out must go to their carbonara pizza, a white sauce base with bacon and an egg on top. Nothing aggravates me more than someone making carbonara with cream, but I’ll forgive Brick in this case because they’ve found a happy spot between the two. There have been occasions where the yolk of the egg topping has been overcooked but on the whole this pizza is gorgeous.
If you order a pizza to yourself, rest assured that for under fifteen pounds you will be sufficiently filled up. If you share you’ll have had a light meal for a steal. Brick has got a quaint atmosphere that recommends itself for casual first dates, post work/school gorging and relaxed catch-ups over scrummy pies. They are not anything like the New York pizza I had all those years ago, but a part of me was reminded of that time, so there must be something. Whatever it may be, I am glad for it, if only to think of such good times, memories stored away only to be brought back like a wedding DVD or your child’s first steps (moments of greater magnitude, but not by much).
Brick is trés hipster, and they attract the crowd, but that’s everywhere these days, especially Norwich, so get used to it. At day’s end, everyone is there to vibe to some tunes and sigh over slices of pizza that remind them of how good it is to be alive.
Location: 39 Market Pl, Norwich NR2 1ND
Prices: Pizza £5-£14; Sides £3-£4.5