How does it measure up?
Update July 2013 – this restaurant has now closed
There’s obviously no shortage of pizza places in London, but most of them serve up grease-laden slices of slop. Franco Manca, with branches in Brixton, Chiswick and Westfield, is an exception but most of those locations aren’t exactly convenient if you’re north of the river. Meter is a new pizza place a short walk north from Old Street Tube station and although it promotes its gimmick of pizza that can be ordered in portions that are a quarter metre in length, any normal person is unlikely to eat more than that.
The surprisingly large space feels like a gussied up student union bar with the bare concrete floor and the eclectic range of light fittings. Although there only ever seem to be just two staff taking care of a few dozen covers, I can’t muster much sympathy for them given their amateurish inefficiency. During each of my three visits to Meter, the waitresses seem more interested in folding napkins than taking my dessert order or bringing me my bill. On one occasion, I had better luck flagging down the barman on the other side of the room than one of the actual servers.
First things first
My first visit to Meter was the first and only time that I ordered a starter – not because it was bad, but having a starter, pizza and dessert was almost more food than I could eat. Having said that, the Giolitti starter wasn’t anything to write home about. The chunk of focaccia had a crisp exterior with a soft, slightly chewy interior and proved to be a good delivery mechanism for the honey and slices of pear. The crisp refreshment of the pear was a nice counterpoint to the sweetness and viscosity of the honey. Sadly, the chunks of pecorino cheese were mild and bland and while the slices of speck were salty and fatty, they didn’t have the depth of flavour as I was expecting. The best examples of speck that I have sampled tend to have a nutty woodiness that tastes better than it sounds.
Few bad things can be said about the Salame Piccante pizza. The base is slightly chewier than I would like, but it is very thin yet doesn’t buckle under the weight of all the toppings and had a soft crust. The chunks of coarse sausage were mildly tart with a spicy finish provided by the chillis, both of which went nicely with the thick and gooey scarmoza cheese.
Affogato is a deceptively simple dessert since it combines both ice cream and coffee, but both of which can be done very badly. The vanilla ice cream used here was not only rather bland but also too icy and not very creamy, as if it hadn’t been churned enough, while the espresso was slightly too acidic and bitter for my taste.
Going back for seconds
Although my first meal at Meter wasn’t a resounding success, the pizza, which is of course the main attraction, was good enough to tempt me back again. The second time around I skipped starters and dived straight into the speck, mascarpone, walnuts and mozzarella pizza.
Unlike the speck in the Giolitti, the speck on this pizza was not only salty but it also had a woody, slightly smoky taste to it that went very nicely with the walnuts although there wasn’t nearly enough of the latter. The soft, milky droplets of cheese added a delightfully creamy touch to everything. Somewhat predictably, the thin base with its soft bite drooped under the weight of all those toppings. Still, a scrumptious pizza.
Pera cotta isn’t a spelling mistake but is the name of Meter’s take on the classic panna cotta. I’m rather bored of poached pears in desserts, but at least the one here is served cold and crisp which is a bit different. The soft panna cotta was more like yoghurt with its dense texture but it was still quite pleasing and went well with the ginger crumble and dusting of cinnamon although there wasn’t enough of either. Still, the pera cotta is a surprisingly decent dessert.
Third time lucky?
There was one final pizza that caught my eye that I had to go back for – the one topped with wild broccoli, pork and fennel sausage, chillies, cream and mozzarella. The thin and stiff base was very chewy this time around, lacking the pleasing softness that had helped make my previous two pizzas so enjoyable. The mildly bitter broccoli looked and tasted more like wilted spinach, but this complimented the distinct flavour of the crumbled sausage pieces and the creamy mozzarella very well. The chillies were so tame as to be unnoticeable though. If it wasn’t for the chewier base, which became quite hard work after a while, this would have been one of Meter’s standout pizzas.
Meter’s tiramisu isn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it’s still one of the better ones despite being one of the simplest too. The dense and creamy top layer has a sweet, slightly boozy hint to it which compliments the mildly bitter coffee flavoured sponge layer beneath very well.
Although the desserts aren’t a resounding success and the slightly wobbly consistency of the pizza dough is a concern, Meter still does some of the best pizzas I’ve had in London so far. If it can sort out the kinks in its menu and its front of house, and perhaps introduced the odd special or two ever now and again, it could be a worthy rival to Franco Manca. For now, it’s worth going to if you live north of the river, but if I had to make a trek for a pizza, then I’d much rather seek out Franco Manca instead.
Address: 70-74 City Road, London, EC1Y 2BJ
Phone: 020 7253 2443
Opening Hours: Call to confirm – usually open until 22.30. Kitchen closed between 15.00 and 18.00.
Reservations: probably a good idea
Total cost for one person including soft drinks: £20-25.
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