Flour & Ash: Pizza perfection plus (June 2017)

Perhaps the most satisfying restaurant experiences are those that totally change one’s perceptions and deliver so markedly more than might have been expected. A recent trip to Flour & Ash undoubtedly fell into this category. Prior to dining, how exciting, thought I – clearly naively – could a pizza place be, especially one located on the Cheltenham Road, an up-and-coming but far from high-end part of Bristol? Yet, from beginning to end the place just works. If this were not endorsement enough, then a bill at little more than £30/head provides another compelling reason to visit. The name provides something of a hint in terms of what it to come: a combination of simplicity and originality. Flour & Ash excels in its use of sourdough and the cooking of (much of) its product in wood-fired ovens. The culinary emphasis is reinforced visually via the stripped-back white walls of the restaurant and the accompanying brown furniture. A pile of chopped wood (presumably for use in the ovens) is visible for all to see, as is the view into the kitchen. What you see is what you get. On the Saturday night when my comrade and I visited, the place was busy both with couples and groups. Yet nothing seemed too much trouble for the staff, who were friendly, engaging and knowledgeable. Lest one get the impression that it’s all pizza here, our meal got off to a flying start with two wonderfully executed starters. My comrade opted for the wood-roast tiger prawns served with garlic butter and sourdough, a nifty take on the restaurant’s two defining characteristics. Mine could not have been more different and had probably seen neither flour nor ash, yet pigeon breast with radish and black pudding was not only original, but also tasty, subtle and rich. Onto the pizzas, and this is where the place excels. There is a choice of around fifteen and beyond the obligatory Margherita, there was little here I had seen ever appear on a menu elsewhere. I selected their Middle Eastern pizza – no cheese, but a series of roast vegetables (including carrot – seriously, it does work on a pizza) covered in tahini. The sesame creaminess of the latter worked as a perfect foil for the spices in which the former was cooked. Where I lacked cheese, my comrade lacked tomato; instead, he delighted in a pizza base topped with a deeply rich, hearty and warming ox cheek and red wine ragu – amazing. We paired our dishes with a memorable bottle of Spanish Garnacha, sourced from the nearby Grape & Grind wine merchant on the Gloucester Road. The emphasis on ‘sourcing local’ seemed strong throughout – another positive. What’s not to like?