The pizza is, by nature, an amorphous beast – easily imported, easily adapted. In the days when the Mediterranean diet was a lot more restricted, the Greeks and Romans were putting herbs, onions and olive oil on their flatbreads. As the tomato arrived and became accepted by the poor in Italy (the rich were more paranoid; the tomato was said to be poisonous), so pizza as we recognise it appeared. Even nationalism played a part; the margherita, it is said, was invented in Naples because its ingredients (tomato, mozzarella, basil) evoked the Italian tricolore.
Well, at least that’s how it went down in its land of origin. For Singapore, the movement towards a pizza more like its Italian original, instead of products from Pizza Hut et al., has been a gradual process; I don’t tend to have them, because they mostly appear in Italian restaurants as part of a menu, and rarely the best part. Bottura, for instance, has its piadina (a north-central variation on the more familiar Neapolitan dish), but it also has arancini and a mean polenta, so why would I order that?
The real niche is a place where pizza is the main thing, but where it’s also made properly – for one, where the pizza’s journey to the table does not include a spell in a fridge. And now there are two recent entrants to that niche, Alt Pizza and The Pizza Collective, representing the burgeoning trend towards pizza as it is made, instead of as it was made and refrigerated.
Alt. Pizza is part of the ongoing re-opening of Suntec City, occupying the ground floor corner of Tower 4 facing the big bronze fountain; they’ve chosen to make the best of a sunlit position by fronting the whole place with glass, making a spacious, airy interior. You write your order on a slip, which is then passed to the long counter.
Two points anchor the pizzeria’s operations. On one hand is chef and owner Matthew White, who headed a successful Philadelphia pizzeria and whose Singapore resume also includes Extra Virgin Pizza across the bay. My guess – I may be wrong, of course – is that he is at least a little fond of pizza, and it shows in the menu; there is the option to make my own pizza, but I decide to go with what he comes up with.
Of course, the other anchor of a pizzeria – any pizzeria – is the oven, which in Alt Pizza is tucked away in the corner. It is a little odd not to advertise that oven, though, because the energy it brings to the pizza is undeniable.
The Free Bird’s ingredients are clearly selected based on looks, but without compromise in terms of taste – on a white sauce pizza come saffron-coloured strips of chipotle chicken, more smoke than spiciness, and properly decadent bacon, appropriately porky and greasy. The advertised mozzarella is rather displaced by little strips of strong, firm parmesan, gusts of characteristic whiff and tang.
But it’s the crust that’s the real key. I’ve read somewhere that White spent a lot of time developing the pizza dough for Alt Pizza, and what he’s come up with responds very well to the range of temperatures in the oven – fringes of crackly char, followed by a bubbly, airy crust. The base, shielded by its ingredients, is chewier and a little stretchy, the fragrance of the Maillard reaction bubbling through between the toppings.
Both Alt Pizza and The Pizza Collective, newly opened at Bugis+, have the option of building your own pizzas; but at The Pizza Collective, the building is the focus of the operation. This place, a ‘little brother’ of Peperoni Pizza – and therefore a child, one supposes, of the Les Amis group – does have a few prebuilt options, which at first glance are either perfunctorily good (cheese and bacon) or a little too quirky, with ingredients such as kimchi. But since they offer unlimited toppings, it’s quite clear what they would prefer you do.
Neither do they have any qualms about publicising their oven, the gas-fuelled flames waltzing merrily in the background while you look over the toppings. You order at a computer, see, then hand the receipt to the pizza wrangler; it’s pizza Subway style, which is quite a good idea. Pizza is a fast food; with a roaring oven like the one they have, it takes all of five minutes. Their toppings cover all the bases too, even including a crumbly blue cheese.
So all the more’s the pity when I have to report that the result isn’t all that good. It’s not bad – for one, the crust, which you can choose (herb or plain) and which is rolled out from a dough lump at the counter, is pretty good, verging towards crispy round the edges; the promised herbs, affable oregano especially, do shine through.
The problem, rather, is in the sourcing of the toppings, which seems wildly hit and miss. The simple things – pineapple, basil – hit the mark, and the blue cheese is aptly strong and musty. But bacon is on the wrong side of the too porky line, while chorizo really isn’t – it’s sausage with paprika in it. The two are not the same. I suppose the issue with The Pizza Collective is in that promise mentioned above – by promising unlimited toppings, they have essentially adopted a buffet-style business model, which places a limit on the price – and the quality – of their toppings.
With that caveat in mind, The Pizza Collective definitely has plenty on offer for someone who wants a hearty pizza in a hurry. Service is also prompt and relatively knowledgeable there, as it is in Alt Pizza – the server holding forth on some of the chef’s ideas for the pizzas at the cashier.
Now, if I had to choose between the two, the more conventional concept – and the steadier, more practiced hand that entails – means I would choose Alt Pizza. Then again, is a competition really what we’re after here? Far better to be glad, I think, that we have better pizza options than ‘pockets filled with dairy products’ and ‘pockets filled with several dairy products mixed together’. I’m a little more credulous with a pizza whose making I can see, thank you…
Suntec City Tower 4
Hours: Daily, 11am – 10pm
The Pizza Collective
201 Victoria Street, Bugis+
Hours: Daily, 11am – 10pm