As we prepare for the much anticipated Nairobi Pizza Festival, Susan Wong’s culinary adventures take her to Brew Bistro and Lounge where she stumbles upon a new way of making pizza with an interesting twist. Her thoughts? Read on!
If there was a degree in the science of making pizza, Neapolitans would ace it and Brew Bistro and Lounge on Ngong Road would win Best Innovation Award.
The notion of the best pizza is, of course, controversial. You may find yours is in Naples or in a quaint village in Italy. Perhaps New York City is where you enjoy your pizza fix, or at a fast-serve restaurant in Kenya’s capital or, God forbid, you might think it exists in your freezer.
Regardless of where your favourite pizza is found, a wood-fired brick oven is critical to making a great pizza, at least the ones with a traditional crust. So, what happens when you don’t have such an oven? You tap into your creativity and innovate.
Brew Bistro and Lounge isn’t exactly known for its pizzas, probably because it doesn’t have a wood-fired brick oven. That said, their small pizza selection for the forthcoming third annual Nairobi Pizza Festival, will certainly raise your interest in things like how pizza dough rises with beer. Fact is that all of the pizzas at Brew are being made with their beers, go figure.
The first to arrive was a Deep Fried Calzone stuffed with wine-caramelized onions, beer tomato sauce, smoked chicken, cheddar, and mozzarella and served with a spicy sweet dipping sauce. Darkened by a thorough frying session, the calzone was extremely crispy but also lightly glistened with oil, especially in folds of the crust’s edge. Savoury and slightly sweetened from the caramelized onions, this calzone tickled my taste buds in just the right way, especially when complemented with the spicy sweet dipping sauce.
Next, a steamed, yes, Steamed Pizza stuffed with beer tomato sauce, cheese, and spicy pepperoni that looked like a pouch or a steamed bun in China with a crust, arrived with apprehensive looks from my companions. Don’t worry, it wasn’t soggy. Instead, the dough had some caramelized colour on the exterior thanks to the chef finishing it in a high temperature salamander broiler. My first bite was incredibly flavourful, but subsequent ones tasted quite salty, probably from concentrated amounts of cured pepperoni stuffed in a small bun that could easily be diced into smaller bites to avoid mouthfuls of it. Ripping into the stuffed bun, the initial aroma had nice notes of tomato sauce, but I missed the action of cheese stretching dangerously into long, limber and thin strands. More cheese would be great!
My overwhelming favourite was the Burrito Pizza with beer tomato sauce, velvety-smooth refried beans, sour cream, roasted red peppers, smoked chicken, and guacamole. It tasted everything like a burrito should but with a subtle taste of beer. An extremely thin dough replaces the flour tortilla, wrapped into a cylinder, every bite was seriously soft and satisfying.
While pizza purists probably would not add anything else aside from the basic ingredients to their dough, experimentation doesn’t always have to get in the way of tradition. Adding beer to a dough makes it supple, and thanks to the yeast in it, will help it rise very well. The downside is that it adds a hint of bitter beer taste that not everyone may enjoy. It’s subtle, but you can’t ignore it either.
The same can be said about the beer tomato sauce. On its own, the sauce is delicious with a hint of bitterness from the beer that’s cut by adding salt. But when paired with a pizza dough that’s also been made with beer, the bitterness is certainly more obvious. I didn’t really mind it, but I also didn’t love it.
Brew Bistro and Lounge, if you’ve never been (which I highly doubt), welcomes you with large kettles that are prominently displayed behind glass, where the brewing process is carried out in full view of its guests. Always busy, this watering-hole has become somewhat of a Nairobi institution, and is a trailblazer in the restaurant scene in Kenya. Sitting at the long bar is always fun thanks to engaging bartenders. Outside, high banquette seats frame the balcony while the rest of the seating carry a black theme throughout.
You will not find a Neapolitan Margherita Pizza or other pizza classics at Brew Bistro, but if you’re looking for novelty, this is the place. The widely popular gastro lounge that manages to remain familiar and yet still serve food with a serious intent and flavour. With the upcoming 2 For 1 deal, Nairobi Pizza Festival is the perfect time to try something new or something that sounds of inspiration. When you dare to eat something different, you realise every meal is an education.