I think I groaned slightly when I recently heard that Crust Gourmet Pizza Bar was opening up their first Western Australian outlet in Subiaco. Another gourmet pizza bar? Why don’t they throw in a gourmet burger joint and macaron store in the same building and complete the trifecta in one fell swoop?
Okay, so perhaps I let my cynicism get away from me on occasion but it’s easy to develop an automatic eye roll when “gourmet” gets thrown around and as I’ve said before I am quite picky when it comes to pizza. If I choose to pay someone else to make it for me, I want the final product to either be superior to what I can make myself, or consist of interesting or unusual topping combinations that I am unlikely to put together in my own kitchen.
My cynicism was thus tempered somewhat when I checked out the Crust website and discovered that there were actually quite a few topping combos that piqued my interest – anyone for Peking Duck or Veggie Moussaka pizza? I was also pleased to see they offered a wholemeal base option, and I was both intrigued and a little heart-fearful of the Chicago Deep Dish base that seemed to be a new addition to the menu.
With the cynic in me having a little sit down with a nice cup of tea, the rest of me was interested enough to consider an invitation by the Crust team to visit their newly opened Subiaco store for an “exclusive” masterclass to learn about their pizzas from Crust’s chef Peter Augoustis, and also to take part in a little competition to create the “most inspiring pizza recipe” and then of course eat the spoils. If the word “exclusive” didn’t already suck me in, the competition and free dinner did the trick and I soon found myself down on Hay Street in Subiaco, ready to get covered in flour and put out someone’s eye with a poorly thrown ball of dough.
Upon arrival I thought it best to take up the offer of a glass of sparkling wine to ensure dough throwing hilarity was to ensue and to give myself a little Dutch (Italian?) courage in the midst of all the photographers there to capture the night. My fellow punctual attendee was the very well dressed Karen of Karen Cheng’s Fashion & Life, whose blog I must admit to being ignorant of until that evening. I’m not the most fashion forward girl, as evidenced by the fact I went shopping in the city today and spent $3 on a scarf at Good Sammies and $5 on a lurid pink dress at Supré (in my defence, both items are for a costume for an upcoming 30th party… a truly, truly,truly outrageous costume).
It wasn’t long before fellow foodie bloggers Lori of Musings of a Wannabe Gourmand, Devan of Bowl of Honey and Carven of Food, Drinks n’ Sun arrived, and after a quick catch up with Lori and finally putting some real faces to Devan and Carven (they exist!) it was time to get started.
Chef Peter went through the process of making their standard dough with us, told us about their gluten-free and wholemeal bases, and then put together five of their pizzas to show us a good cross section of their menu. We were all interested in the Chicago deep dish, and our beating hearts were stilled at learning that they are not your coronary-in-a-slice style deep dish but rather like a hybrid between their regular pizza and a calzone, and the vegetarian deep dish pizza he made actually seemed reasonably healthy.
I was admittedly pleasantly surprised to enjoy all of the pizzas that he made for us. The bases are a good thickness (not too thick, hooray) with a nice structural crust on the bottom, and the toppings were fresh, flavoursome and seemingly of a good quality. It was interesting to try the gluten-free base, which had a short, almost biscuit-like texture. Peter said that it is not uncommon for non-coeliac sufferers to order the gluten-free base just because they enjoy eating it more than the usual one.
After Peter had finished his demonstration it was time for us to prove our worth and get cranking on the “most inspiring pizza recipe” competition.
Now, I have a confession to make. In case you hadn’t realised it already, I’m a massive dork. Knowing that we would relied upon to come up with a recipe, and being the person that I am, I had spent a good half hour on the day of the masterclass thinking of what pizza I should come up with. My initial idea was some sort of Greek lamb pizza as I’ve had a few nice versions of these at other pizzerias. Upon checking out the Crust menu however, I saw that they already had a Mediterranean Lamb AND a Moroccan Lamb pizza, so I wouldn’t exactly be a pizza trailblazer with my initial idea. There is a “Build Your Own” section on the Crust website where you can view all the available ingredients, so I started scrolling through these for some inspiration and finally it struck – I was going to make a Paella Pizza!
We were asked to split into pairs for our pizza creation, and happily my pizza partner-in-crime Lori agreed that the world deserves paella pizza. She also had the fabulous idea of finishing off the pizza with saffron aioli – genius! Going over the ingredients available to us, we decided on: tomato base with a squeeze of garlic added, chicken, chorizo, mussels, roasted capsicum, Spanish onion and mozzarella, then finished off after cooking with a sprinkling of chopped fresh chilli, a drizzle of saffron aioli and a couple of lemon wedges.
Each pair then nominated a pizza maker and the three of us proceeded to don gloves and get behind the pizza counter, no doubt to the chagrin of the staff who had to continue their regular work around us. I’m sure they were relieved however to learn that we would not be making our own dough bases, and I had to file away any grand plans of spinning my way into their hearts (or eyeballs).
We docked our bases, sauced them up, added cheese then toppings then a little more cheese, all the while wishing desperately that I didn’t get an itchy nose or shed hair onto something. We then waited for the oven to do its work…
First pizza out for our critique was the fabulously named Streets of Bangkok made by Karen and Devan. Karen suggested it could more appropriately be named “Little Lumps of Dog Poo in the Streets of Bangkok, with Vegetable Scraps Thrown on Top” but I think we can respectfully disagree about this lovely chunky pizza – I made sure to select a piece sans-meatball and thought they came up with a clever mix of flavours to match the clever name.
Second cab off the rank was Carven and Carrie’s Sunday Roast pizza including pumpkin and lamb. I admit I was ever so slightly put off by the name making me think of Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, but I didn’t let this ruin my appetite and loved this portable version of everyone’s favourite Sunday fare.
Lucky last was our Paella Pizza, which I thought looked quite pretty with the aioli and little chilli tendrils. Squeezing over the lemon before tucking in, I was really pleased with our efforts! I really enjoyed how well the flavours worked together, but perhaps would not recommend this pizza on a first date given the stickiness of the aioli and saffron’s bright colour. Nothing says ‘kiss me you fool’ like a face and hands covered in delicious bright yellow goo.
All pizzas were shared amongst everyone present, including a number of Crust bigwigs who were along for the evening, and everyone voted for the pizza they most enjoyed. After tallying the votes it was high-five time for Lori and I – Paella Pizza was victorious!!! Peter went on to say that he was so impressed by it that he would be working to get it on the 2012 menu, if not the 2011 one which was already largely finalised.
So Paella Pizza may well be coming to a Crust near you, and Lori and I will become ladies of leisure, living off our pizza royalties and doing guest appearances on MasterChef and Food Safari.
Overall – fun was had, pizza was enjoyed, high fives were heard and bellies were stretched by the end of the night. Based on what we ate I can happily recommend the pizzas at Crust and I retract my earlier eye roll.
Crust Gourmet Pizza Bar
Address: Retail T6, 502 Hay Street, Subiaco 6008
Phone: 08 6363 0420
Fax: 08 6363 0419
Opening Hours: Mon-Thur: 12-2:30pm; 5-10pm; Fri: 12-2:30pm; 5-11pm; Sat-Sun: 5-10pm