Being a food blogger is not always about fine dining and eating in luxury hotels. So when we received an invite to try out the newly launched 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza, we literally jumped at the chance to indulge in some comfort food and Italian delights.
Located in a fantastic footfall location, next to the VOX cinema at Deira City Centre Mall, the first thing we noticed was how much 800 Degrees stands out as a brand. Situated amongst all the standard food court favourites (Hatam, PF Changs, Paul etc), we were immediately drawn to this Neapolitan Pizzeria, based solely upon the fact that it was something new and different and that intrigued us…
Now regular readers will know that we are not the biggest fans of mall dining, an experience that we usually find to be loud, busy and completely impersonal. Seeing a large seating area stretching out into the mall walkway, we were more than a little dubious. Step inside though and the experience is a far more pleasant affair, with evenly spaced tables, dark wooden panelling, checkered floors, pizza paddles and a small gelato counter.
If we were to open a restaurant in Dubai at the moment, two cosines we would stray away from are burgers (nobody does it better than Salt) and Pizza. There are just so many Pizza brands trying to make an impression, in an already oversaturated marketplace (think Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, Pizzaro, Freedom Pizza and California Pizzza Kitchen to name a few), that it is difficult to make a mark. To succeed, 800 Degrees need a very strong USP and something to make it stand out from the glut of other similar themed eateries.
Thankfully, 800 Degrees do have something different to offer. Pizzas are of the Neapolitan variety and furthermore, all items on the menu are fully customisable – meaning that diners get to create their own pizzas from scratch including base, sauce and all toppings. 800 Degrees do not want to restrict you to a list of pre-prepared options. The sky’s the limit and you can create whatever you want.
The first thing that impressed us, was that the manager came over and introduced himself personally, he then proceeded to spend the lunchtime service on the floor, interacting with diners, taking orders and bringing the food. This leading by example made for a strong teamwork and service overall was unobtrusive and friendly – just as we like it. The service was personable with regular customers being known by name.
The restaurant can cater to 12o covers at one time and we were surprised at just how busy it got during a lunchtime service. At around 2pm there was barely any free tables in the restaurant, yet it still felt like a pleasurable place to eat and because the tables are not cramped, you don’t have to worry about picking up on somebody else conversation.
Perusing the menu, the beverages are nothing to write home about, just the standard fare of sodas, water, tea and coffee. The food options comprise of pizza, salads and fresh pasta and though you can opt for one of the listed options, it is more fun to hit the counter ‘Subway style’ and personalise your dish. At the sleek metal counter we were pleased to note just how clean the space was, all the utensils were sparkling, the food was covered and the area was immaculate, giving us an strong confidence in the brand.
Start by choosing your crust from Neapolitan (light, thin, soft and chewy), thin (soft and delicate and apparently not require a knife and fork to eat) or gluten free (made from corn, rice and soy). Next up, select a sauce from Bufalino, Verde (green pesto), Margherita, Bianca (no tomato sauce) and Marinara. Then go crazy with the toppings, there are literally hundreds to choose from! At the end, the pizza goes into the imported Italian wood fire oven (see the logs on the floor for authenticity) and cooked for 90 seconds at 800 degrees – wow thats fast! Plus we now know where the name of the restaurant comes from.
Now let us rewind a moment. It is possible to fully customise your dish from the list in the menu, you don’t have to physically go up to the counter and do it yourself, though children will love making their choices and watching the food being cooked, alongside all the live cooking theatrics.
While waiting for our pizza to cook, we attempted to be healthy by ordering a salad! The manager recommended the Gorgonzola and we couldn’t have been happier with the results. Not being massive salad fans, we were delighted with the sweet crunch of the candied walnuts, contrasted with the sweetness provided by the dried cranberries and the saltiness of the cheese. Our only criticism was that we would have like a mixture of leaf, but with the team giving us extra candied walnuts, we can’t really grumble.
“The original pizza was created in Naples approximately 200 years ago, by bakers looking to feed the masses in a cost-effective way. Using simple, readily available ingredients the bakers took small pieces of dough, topped them with tomatoes grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and sold them as a street snack. In 1889 cheese was added and pizza as we know it was born.” – 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza.
With this helpful piece of culinary history, our pizzas arrived. Having selected a Bufalina (mixing Buffalo Mozzarella, Parmigiana Reggiani, olive oil and fresh basil) it was simplicity at its best, using traditional Neapolitan flavours to enhance the thin crust. The simple combination of fresh basil and crushed tomatoes meant that the need for extra toppings was not required.
The second pizza was the pollo (comprising chicken, gorgonzola and caramelised onions) upon a base of mozzarella, olive oil, garlic and parmesan. We couldn’t help but add goats cheese to this pizza which contained absolutely no tomato.
But how does it taste we hear you ask? Well, we are pleased to report that because each pizza is fully customisable, you get exactly what you want. On the pollo we purposely didn’t want tomato, but were looking for a sweetness to offset the creamy goats cheese and we got that with the caramelised onion. Knowing exactly what you want is half the battle, but taking the time to customise reaps rewards, in that you get a pizza designed specifically for your own personal tastes.
Having visited Naples, a city famous for its food, as opposed to its picturesque scenery. We have to say that this is not strictly authentic Neapolitan pizza. Rather, a hybrid with the Californian style of pizza that is all the rage at the moment. The Bufalino for example, lacks the richness of the homemade tomato sauces of Naples that are traitionally flavoured with plump sun dried tomato and fresh oregano. That is not to say that these pizzas are bad (they are far from it), they are however, more American in style than Italian.
Despite this, the food did conjure up images of our visit to Naples. A warren of winding streets hung with laundry, tiny tavernas, great street food and a gateway to the Amalfi coast and the luxury island life Capri. 800 Degrees brought back wistful memories of all these places and more.
Now it is no secret that Tiramisu is our favourite dessert (followed closely by Pecan Pie, Key Lime Lie and any kind of fondant). We love a good tiramisu, but this one fell a little short of the mark for us. Now this is not entirely the fault of 800 Degrees. Attempting to make a dish that is notoriously soaked in copious amounts of alcohol, is going to be a difficult task for the Middle Eastern market. Yet the tiramisu here tasted of little more than just cream, with the smallest hint of coffee. We couldn’t really taste the chocolate, despite a thick layer of coco powder on top, which you basically inhale as you eat. Saying that, the tiramisu looked really good, a thick slab of layered cake, somewhat resembling a creamy zebra.
Overall we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch at 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza. The prices are extremely reasonable, the portions are large and it is a great place for family dining in a relaxed environment. For a concept that is less than a year old, 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza are certainly making a bold jump into the Italian food market.
With three locations already (Deira CC, MOE and Me’aisem City Centre) and new branches planned for Burjuman, Dubai Marina, the forthcoming Dubai Parks and Resorts and even Qatar. 2016 looks likely to be the year of customisable pizza – we wish them luck.