91-95 Clerkenwell Road, London, EC1R 5BX
Em Marshall-Luck enjoys a pizza
Situated almost opposite a house in which Benjamin Disraeli used to live, Wedge Issue is a trendy, hip young establishment at the slightly down-at-heels yet undoubtedly rising west end of Clerkenwell Road. It is fairly unobtrusive from the road – a paleish green exterior – the colour of which is continued inside, and a sign bearing the name and a distinctive logo. One enters into frenetic chaos and swirling smoke. Admittedly, we chose one of the busiest times to visit, on a Friday lunchtime when it was heaving with young office workers out for a quick but sociable lunch at long tables. The hot and stressed but friendly chap who greeted us at the door slightly panicked at the word “journalist” and rushed up and down the stairs several times, until he led us up and out of the frenzy to the balcony seating above. Seating up here is on old school chairs at large round modern red tables, of which there are only a couple, so a rather welcome sense of calmness, isolation and exclusivity prevails. The decor of the building – which my husband reckoned was previously a fire-station – is minimal, with a few wall uplighters, a large rectangular and rather industrial-looking mirror opposite the gallery and blackboards bearing messages about how to connect through social media; the only softness comes in the fairy lights around the window which add a welcome sparkle in the austere surroundings. Below, the tables are wooden (chairs are still old school chairs), and wooden floors run throughout; the kitchen opens onto the restaurant below so that one may watch one’s pizzas being taken out of the smoke-belching ovens. Yet the smoke, of course, rises and it wasn’t many minutes before my eyes were stinging and throat tightening. The raucous sound of loud and aggressive pop music added to the already extremely high volume levels.
Menus were brought very swiftly indeed – these are short and to the point, with just a couple of starter options, some pasta dishes, a few salads, and a longer range of pizzas. Pizzas can be customised with buffalo mozzarella, gluten-free bases, additional rocket and parmesan shavings or ultra-hot Diabola sauce.
The drinks list is longer than the menu, I think, and the options are also outstanding, for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The latter include lemonade, raspberry lemonade, cucumber soda, strawberry soda and Gingerella Ginger Beer, in which my husband indulged – this had a nice refreshing zing, and a slightly lemony taste with a good kick of ginger. Although wine is available, it is craft beer that Wedge Issue specialises in, with over twenty beers, mainly from artisan producers in London, but a few from America and Ireland as well. There are tantalising descriptions by each one, and far, far too many that I would have liked to try. I chose a cider – the Jersey from Hoxton Cidersmiths, based on the Harry Master’s Jersey apples: a slightly effervescent cider with a sweet and warm taste. I was impressed that jugs of tap water were provided on all the tables, although we asked for bottled still mineral water.
We ordered the meatballs and rosemary and garlic slices to start with. The meatballs are small, round and densely meaty, with a very full flavour and plenty of chilli-like heat: rather good. It was the rosemary and garlic slices that really caught my heart, however – a thin, crispy, crunchy pizza base is smothered in garlicky, rosemary butter in so generous a slathering that it literally drips off as one bites into the slices. Delicious.
Wedge Issue is rare and immensely commendable in its means of making its pizza dough. Using only flour, yeast and water, the chefs allow the dough to rise for up to three days, which allows the yeast to ferment fully, in the process converting all the simple sugars. This means that the pizza oven can be at a much higher temperature than usual (800 degrees Fahrenheit – c.425 degrees Celius) and the pizza is in the oven for only 90 seconds to three minutes (depending on the pizza topping). The tomato sauce is made entirely from San Marzano tomatoes, and has nothing added except a pinch or two of basil and some olive oil; it is uncooked, which lends an unusual depth of flavour.
I went for the Chelsea (mozzarella, fresh basil and San Marzano sauce), substituting buffalo mozzarella and adding mushrooms and pepperoni. The base was delicious: thin and elastic in the middle and delightfully chewy at the edge. The generous portion of cheese on top was excellent – gorgeously rich and creamy, and the whole pizza worked extremely well. Definitely a cut above your usual pizza.
My husband was less taken with his, but, being a classical musician, he had been finding the noise of the establishment oppressive and the loud music disorientating and distressing. He went for ‘The London Fields’ pizza, which he deemed good, but not especially individual or distinctive, although he thought that the meatballs and ricotta worked very well together and individually were excellent, the meatballs, especially, having a good depth to the flavour; whilst the chillies added a spicy kick to the whole.
The green salad featured not just lettuce but olives, green peppers, Jerusalem artichoke and goats’ cheese. The dressing was rather sharp and to be honest, I would have far preferred just some simply dressed lettuce leaves, with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, which could have cut through the richness of the pizza – this concoction was too much on the heavy and unnecessarily complicated side. Perhaps it is meant as a course in and of itself, though, rather than an accompaniment for the pizzas.
Desserts include a chocolate pizza (milk chocolate drizzled over a pizza base) – which I would have liked to try, time allowing, and sweet cinnamon strips – again, a sweet version of our garlic and rosemary strips, I would guess. We opted for the chocolate brownie which was served warmed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The brownie itself was incredibly fudgy and rich – gooey and dense.
To accompany our dessert, I was unable to resist the London mead from Gosnell’s in Peckham and was astonished. Gosnell’s have turned a warm, cloying, thick and dense drink which should be enjoyed warm out of pewter tankards by an open fire into something light, cold, fizzy and refreshing. Its effervescence surprised me, as did the amazing lightness of the drink. The ingredients here are simply pure honey and water, and the taste consequently is, indeed, of pure honey (albeit slightly watery honey) – making it truer to its origins than traditional mead which is really more syrupy than honeyed. Whilst personally I prefer the thicker traditional syrupy stuff, I was intrigued by this and also impressed by how a rather antediluvian drink can be brought up to date to appeal to today’s youth.
Service was very swift to start with, but developed a very long gap after we had finished our main courses. Our friendly waiter took the trouble to explain to us the difference between their pizzas and others that one might encounter, and one of the owners also came to say hello, which was appreciated.
On the whole, Wedge Issue greatly impressed me and I can heartily recommend their superlative pizzas and fabulous beer list – although one does need to be able to bear smoke, loud conversations and blaring pop music as the price to pay for outstanding artisan products. I notice that they do deliveries, and just regret the distance between Clerkenwell and Shropshire!
Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s Food and Wine Critic