Carb-loading. Was there ever a more welcome suggestion from a gym instructor? After months of curbing my appetite for bread at breakfast, lunch and supper to attempt "leanness" (the new thin), I was on board for high-protein forever – but it didn't take much to get me back.
Well, I say much. I've signed up to cycle more than 150km in Rajasthan, India, in six weeks' time, in aid of Action Against Hunger. If that sounds like a lot, the rest of the posse are doing 500km in five days, so I'm the lightweight. As any fool knows, you can't pedal for seven hours a day without some fuel in your tank, which is how I find myself at Pizza Pilgrims, a pizzeria and friggitoria in London's Soho.
What's a friggitoria? Well, it's a shop selling fried food, and although I'm a pizza purist, if ever there were something to add to what's on offer, it's fried Italian things.
The pilgrims themselves are James and Thom Elliot, Brits whose love of the mighty fast-food classic sent them on a, yes, pilgrimage around Italy three years ago. When they returned, it was with a van with a wood-burning stove inside, and their classic Neapolitan sourdough pizzas soon became a huge hit on the London street-food and festival scene.
Last year they opened a site in Dean Street and earlier this summer a new place, just off the thronging shops'n'caffs madness of Carnaby Street. When my daughter and I throw ourselves through the door, away from the tourists and teens drifting between Vans and Jack Wills, the long, skinny room is full, and there's a feeling of quiet industry.
A green-and-white-check waxed tablecloth is swept clean and we sit down to peruse the menu. This doesn't take long. There are 10 pizzas – from a simple marinara at £5 to the most ritzy, salsiccia e friarielli, at £11 (this latter being a white pizza with fennel sausage, wild broccoli and Parmesan).
So far, so good, simple carb classics. But more interesting, from the fryer, is a choice of two "little deep fried calzones", one with porchetta (£5.50) and one with mushrooms (£5), and three "little cups of deep-fried joy". Who wouldn't want those?
These three are, to be specific, tomato risotto balls with smoked mozzarella (£4.50), fried artichoke hearts with rosemary salt (£4), and macaroni cakes with ragu, Parmesan and buffalo mozzarella (£5). They are all faultless. The arancini are piping-hot, with a deeply crunchy breadcrumb crust bursting to reveal tangy, pink-tinged risotto and a superbly stringy stretch of smoky cheese. The artichokes have a wafer-thin batter and bullish whack of salt, which works perfectly. Since this is the closest we get to veggies in this joint, we gobble them all up in the interests of balance.
I heard my esteemed fellow critic Marina O'Loughlin use the expression "crack snack" about a dish at another West End restaurant recently; I'd argue that it's just as relevant about the frittatine di maccheroni. They don't look like much: dark brown nubbly pucks with a couple of wooden sticks to spear them. But, oh, inside is pasta with perfect bite and a rich, creamy, savoury ragu. I'd sign up for a 5,000km bike ride if it meant I could eat these daily.
And the pizzas? They are good. If you have a proper Italian pizzeria near you, you'll know that chewy crust and just-the-right-side-of-soggy fior di latte ooze. I find the wild broccoli too bitter, but the sausage is excellent, and the Margherita is exemplary. Even better, though, is the porchetta calzone, which combines slivers of scented pork with sweet passata that is simply San Marzano tomatoes crushed up, and a crunch from putting the whole bundle, briefly, in the fryer.
We finish with ice creams from Gelupo. This Soho gelateria is, to my mind, the best bar none, so it's genius to get its wares in Pizza Pilgrims. Sour cherry and ricotta is the stuff of legend.
If you ever have to go to the West End for shopping or visiting, you'll need to carb-load to battle the crowds. On the evidence of my lunch, there's nowhere finer for a quick hit.
@lisamarkwell. If you would like to sponsor me, please visit rajasthancyclechallenge.everydayhero.com/uk/lisa-markwell
Pizza Pilgrims, 11 Kingly Street, London W1, tel: 020 7287 2200. £50 for two, with drinks
Four more foodie notes from the past week
The Drapers Arms
First briefing meeting for our cycle ride at this ace Islington pub, where the menu is many notches above standard gastropub. The roast beef was a wow.
I made a #brekface of salmon and eggs to support this fab charity that feeds hungry schoolchildren. Tweet yours to @magic breakfast and text Face02 £2 to 70070.
The food in Malaysia blew me away; I quickly got into the habit of a morning roti with fish curry, eggs and peanuts. Not something as easy to find in north London!
Gizzi Erskine tells me she's making a grain out of the veggie instead of real rice, as a way of cutting carbs. Going to try the Hemsley + Hemsley recipe. Will report back…Reuse content