Stacey Black heads to Bertha’s and enjoys a pizza the action
I love pizza. Pizza is my favourite of all the major food groups. This delicious pie has seen me through great times (I got that job!) and tough times (when I decided to cut my own hair), hangovers, date nights, moving house, and evenings where it was all I could find in my freezer. So when I found a place that treasures pizza as much as I do, I had to try it.
Standing on the old gaol stables site at Wapping Wharf, proudly overlooking the new development of independent shops, bars and restaurants, is Bertha’s Pizza. Named after the Sheffield steel wood-fired oven that started life making pizza for friends in owner Graham Faragher’s back garden, this restaurant is the jewel in the crown of Bristol’s ‘pizza quarter’. From this grand location, the dedicated team of pizza-enthusiasts have been producing superior sourdough pizza and gelato since 2016. Before that, however, you may have caught sight of the bright yellow flash of the Bertha Mobile whizzing around Bristol.
With such distinction as being named as one of The Guardian’s best pizza places to visit outside of London, I skipped into Bertha’s with high hopes. I told you I love pizza. Airy, bright and stylishly decorated, guests are greeted to a clear view of the behemoth that is the wood-fired pizza oven specially built in Italy. The secret to a perfect crust, I’m told, is the 500-degree heat that this beast produces. In a haze of flour, the chefs were busy expertly moulding and stretching the perfectly spherical mounds of dough lined up on the kitchen counter. Not wanting to miss out on this bit of food theatre, we chose a bench upstairs on the first floor where we could watch the magic happen in the open-plan kitchen.
With plenty of seating, an impressive mural of Bristol to pore over, and large beams overhead, this lofty spot is a lovely place to spend an evening. Feeling like a beer, I went for a pint of Arbor Shangri-la while my partner chose a trusty Wiper and True. These citrusy drinks were a great match for the house smoked almonds. Smoky, salty and almost impossible to stop eating, this could be my new go-to beer snack. Always a strong choice as a precursor to dinner, I went for the Nocellara olives. Meaty, savoury and a pleasing vibrant-green hue, these are a must. On the evening of our visit, the menu included classics like the Margherita and Marinara (vegan), and also some curveballs such as the Sausagefest made with house sausage, and the Meat & Heat. Made with Cobble Lane Cured pepperoni and hot honey, Graham tells me that he is forbidden to remove it from the menu, such is the reverence his customers have for his creation.
Fresh from a research trip to Naples with his team (and a newborn!), Graham led us through the menu. For me, he recommended The Woods. A staff favourite, the mushroomy delight barely even touched the table before I began to dig in. Cushiony, chewy and blistered to savoury perfection, the crust alone was the stuff of dreams. Well, my dreams, anyway. The pizza was heaving under the weight of the tender mushrooms, and shot through with the sweetness of onion chutney. The tangy black garlic and crunchy almonds were an inspired, and welcome, addition, especially considering this was a tomato-free option. Going for the ‘wallet’ method of folding my pizza, I tried to eat it delicately, but it was no use; I was in the zone, and I didn’t care if I was wearing most of the topping.
While I was off in some kind of reverie, my partner was enjoying his selection. The Aubergine was a similarly delicious pizza, topped with a rich red sauce of tomato passata, brought in specially from the Isle of Wight. Hefty portions of tender aubergine were nestled into the velvety and stretchy mozzarella, and fragments of fresh basil were scattered here and there. A dusting of Parmesan was the finishing touch. In case there are any crusts left over, there are a selection of dips on the menu. Our choice for the evening was the mushroom ketchup. Rich, smooth and with an anchovy-like taste, this little umami explosion should be sold by the litre.
Since the several-days-long proof means that the dough is both delicious and digestible, I was delighted to find I had some room for dessert. The little pot of crunchy gelato was just what I needed. It was soft, creamy and intriguingly elastic, with just enough of the little honeycomb crackles to satisfy. Paired with a wee snifter of a delicious Black Forest gateaux-style digestif, I couldn’t think of a better way to round off a meal.
Showcasing local ingredients, with a real passion for a truly exceptional dough, combined with the ethos that “great pizza is simple”, Bertha’s Pizza are the reigning champions. The team started out making pizza in a back garden, and it still feels as though they’re cooking for friends.
The Old Gaol Stables
0117 929 0003
Image credit: © Emli Bendixen