Unfortunately I don't get to write about many pizza places in Brisbane, because pizza is one of those things that was cruelly taken away from me when I found out I had coeliac disease (cue sad music).
Over the last couple of years though I've been perfecting a thin, crispy, gluten-free pizza base at home, but I've had a lot of trouble finding a good one out in the restaurant world. I suspect the main problem is that while a few restaurants around the place are now serving gluten-free pizza bases, the people preparing them don't eat the finished product on a regular basis, so the usual quality controls may slip by the wayside. The main disappointment, after trying plenty of gluten free bases, is that they tend to go really soggy. From my experience at home, the trick to a good gluten free base is pre-cooking it first, so it's on the way to getting crispy, then top with only a few ingredients and cook at a high heat. One day I'll remember to post up a recipe for my gluten free capricciosa pizza.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, one of my readers recommended Vespa Pizza at New Farm. We popped in a couple of weekends ago to give their pizzas a try. Vespa Pizza is right next door to Tandoori King (my current favourite Indian restaurant) on Merthyr Road.
We arrived at 7pm, which is a bit early for dinner in my book, but now we have a 3 month old daughter we don't get a lot of say in dinner time. Even though it was early, the place was packed. The tables out the front were full, the tables inside were almost full, and all the tables along the side courtyard area were also full. That's usually a good sign.
We were shown to a table in the side courtyard. It was pretty dark, except for the fairy light on the table - it would be the perfect table for a big date. I was immediately attracted to the Moroccan-style lamp on the side wall. On our trip to Morocco I was desperate to buy a Moroccan light shade, but had no idea how to get it back to Australia. Luckily our daughter was equally as transfixed by the light shade, which kept her entertained for most of our meal.
After having a look at their menu online, Vespa sounded like my kind of pizza place. Call me traditional, but I'm really not a fan of lamb shanks, Moroccan chicken and/or satay sauce on pizza - when it comes to pizza, I like them simple.
We didn't have a lot of time, so we weren't really interested in starters. But if you get to your table early, waiting for late arrivals, there are some tasty sounding entrees, including basil, diced vine tomatoes, buffalo feta and olive oil bruschetta ($8.50), crispy polenta pieces with rosemary and garlic aioli ($7) and marinated artichokes with fennel, mint and basil ($11).
We went straight for the pizzas. There are 20 to choose from, most of which only contain a few toppings. I fairly quickly narrowed it down to capricciosa (my favourite all-time pizza - pancetta, salami, olives, mushrooms, anchovies, red peppers - $19), suppresed (sopressa with tomato, olives and chilli - $18.50), pancetta and buffalo feta with rosemary and cracked pepper ($18.50) and salami and mushroom with basil, mozzarella and truffle oil ($18.50). I was in one of my "try something different" moods, so I went for the pizza bianco instead (pancetta, olives, cherry tomatoes, artichokes, capers, sea salt and fior di latte cheese - $19.50).
There's also a good range of pizzas to choose from if you're vegetarian (as you'd expect from a traditional pizzeria) including margherita (semi dried roma tomatoes with fior di latte cheese and fresh basil leaves - $18.50), mushroom ragout with spinach and feta ($19.50) and carciofi (artichoke hearts, buffalo feta, oven dried cherry tomatoes and rosemary - $19.50).
We thought we'd order a salad as well, just for a bit of variety, and the Caprese style salad took our fancy (vine tomatoes, fior di latte cheese, torn basil and olive oil - $12.50).
Although we had to ask a couple of times for our bottle of water to show up, the pizzas didn't take long to arrive. My pizza arrived first. Even though it had a gluten free base, it was thin and really crispy around the edges. They hadn't managed to get the crispiness through the whole base (if I was to be very picky) but it was probably the best gluten free base I've eaten at a restaurant. As for the toppings, they were excellent. Forget the Pizza Hut "load it up with 5 centimetres of toppings" - this pizza featured a few well chosen toppings, sparingly spread over the base. The white pizza (pizza bianco) meant there was no tomato sauce on the base, which again helped the flavour of the toppings to shine. I thought the capers might overwhelm the rest of the toppings, but they turned out to be tiny little ones, and everything worked together remarkably well. I managed to eat all but the last piece - it would have been rude to let such a good pizza go to waste.
My wife had ordered the carciofi pizza, which also turned out to be very tasty. There was a good, thin base which was perfectly crispy. The buffalo feta was apparently the star of the pizza, but worked well with the artichoke, cherry tomatoes and rosemary.
Our salad turned out to be very good, matching the quality of the pizzas. Forget thin slices of tomato & cheese that you usually come across with a Caprese salad - this one had huge big chunks of fior di latte cheese and equally large chunks of ripe tomatoes. There were plenty of basil leaves, either torn or cut into tiny bits. It was another reminder as to how good a simple salad can taste when it only contains top ingredients.
There is a very compact wine list, which features Italian wines and varietals. It was a fairly warm night, so I went with a glass of the Tuesner Salsa rose ($8.50/glass). Luckily it had a good level of acidity, which really helped with the strong Italian flavours on the pizza. Keeping with the Italian feel of the night, my wife ordered a San Pellegrino pompelmo soft drink ($3.50).
Other than having to ask for water a couple of times, our waitress was very friendly and unobtrusive. Our orders were taken quickly, and the pizzas were out within half an hour - good service all round.
I will definitely be back to Vespa Pizza to explore the rest of the menu. In these days where fast food places pile more and more tasteless toppings onto pizza, it's good to see that there are still restaurants like Vespa that concentrate on quality. If (like me) you're on a gluten free diet, put Vespa on your must visit list.
Sorry there are no photos, but our table was too dark for me to get any decent ones.
What does all this mean? Delicious, thin, crispy pizzas which each focus on a few high quality ingredients. A must visit if you're looking for good gluten-free pizza.
food bling ratings
Food - Great
Service - Good
Ambience - Casual, with seats out the front, inside and along the side
Vegetarian - Good
Wine - Compact selection, but pizza friendly
Value for Money - Good
Gluten Free - Great
148 Merthyr Road
New Farm 4005
P - 07 3358 4100
W - http://www.vespapizza.com.au/
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