Three weeks. Three weeks it’s taken for a rental space in Chester to have potentially cracked my pursuit for the perfect slice of pizza. Chester has multiple amazing artisan pizza establishments (most notably Stile Napoletano in Chester Market) and the new kid on the block, Dough Dough, is also causing quite a stir.
Upon arrival, we’re met by Alex, a craft beer expert. He motions my boyfriend and me to a table within the cool, chic interior. We take in the bright lights, arcade games, a ridiculously well stocked beer fridge and the star of the show, an open kitchen! Alex introduces himself and tries to match us with one of his thirty six beers (THIRTY SIX!). I go for a light mango beer (Floris) and Owen picks a wheat beer (Paulaner). Honestly, we could have visited Dough Dough on a night out for the bar alone.
Dough Dough was originally Jack Burrito, which unfortunately wasn’t successful in its current location. The owner of Jack Burrito then offered up the space to three of his current employees and challenged them to come up with a new idea. Alex, Beth and Emma brought the things they love together: Pizza, Beer and Games. The name, of course, is from the base of the pizza but the second ‘Dough’ is the idea that the pizza is theirs to create.
Three then became four. Gabriele, their head pizzaiolo, joined the group of friends after a rather disastrous first meeting. Gabriele went to the wrong place for his interview. After Alex and Beth walked down to meet him at his new location, they very much expected to find an unprepared rookie, and yet as soon as he spoke they heard the passion, knowledge and love of a damn fine Chef. Five years working in a bakery back home in Italy is where Gabriele picked up his love of bread. Later, there was fifteen years of culinary experience in England, where he had many chances to work alongside and refine his talents with the likes of Marco Fuso who specialises in, you guessed it…pizza.
Gabriele has recently been nominated for the UK National Italian Pizza Championship where he promises to submit a vegan pizza to shock his Italian competitors (Italians don’t do vegan, he says). He sees his ‘pizza as (his) plate’ and this is why he can easily come up with new creations and recipes that shock his team into silence. Gabriele created the Nepolanatono pizza: tomato, anchovy, capers, oregano and evo pizza – now their second most popular dish. He continues to push the boundaries and expectations of both his team and their customers by inventing the ‘specials’, which often sell out.
The dough itself is created nightly and left to proof for twenty four hours, a process Gabriele also experiments with. Dough Dough provides the traditional Neapolitan base which is incredibly fluffy and wood charred from their huge traditional wood-fired oven, but you can also try a more robust base.
Beth explained the overall aim for Dough Dough is to provide a chilled out and relaxed atmosphere; drink some beer, play some games and enjoy your food. She originally expected their crowd to be university students and young couples but have found the restaurant brimming with all types of ages, families and international visitors. On my visit, I saw two Italian waiters from Sergios perched at the bar! The community vibe you feel sitting inside is what Chester is about. The decor really creates the vibe, thanks to Emma (one of the creators). Described as ‘the organised colleague’, Emma designed the interior.
The cured meats supporting Gabriele’s creations are imported in from Italy to support the authenticity of the dish. Whereas local fruit and veg shop Francis Thomas supplies their greens, and their cheese comes from a Liverpool cheese factory. Every ingredient they can get locally is sourced from local. Sweet Elements (next door) supply them with the moulds to create their signature dessert – mozzarella cheesecake – a delicious creation – it looks like a ball of mozzarella, it’s a really creamy and light dessert accompanied by a coulis and crumbled biscuit. Beth also hints at a future collaboration with Sweet Elements (which I for one would definitely turn up to experience).
We also got to try focaccia and ciabatta (served as specials) which are fresh and moist, with perfect air pockets and flavour. In his second week on-site, Gabriele created a sourdough pizza and the base sold out within hours of being on the menu. I really enjoyed speaking to him; his passion and love is very evident and contagious! Nothing is too much trouble for him, so if you’re a picky eater I wouldn’t be afraid to visit. He would rather his customers provide feedback and advise him and really enjoy their meal than leave disappointed. Never be afraid because he will never say no! Even when we were there, I saw customers asking for ingredients to be put in a side dish and not on the pizza and ingredients put on after the pizza after coming out of the oven and not before. It seemed to me Gabriele enjoyed the comments and challenged, as he strives to provide the best customer experience.
The oven is blisteringly hot at 500’c and the pizza was cooked at 418’c, taking only ninety seconds per pizza. Gabriele is brave enough to teach me how to create their most popular dish on the menu: the Margarita. His quick and graceful stretching of the dough seems impossible for me to copy and my attempt to replicate the ease in which he spread the sauce made me look like a child who had yet to master their fine motor skills. It was all worth it in the end though, when we finally got to taste the goods. Me with my Margarita and Owen with his Sicilia: mozzarella, fig, goat’s cheese, honey, pine nut and rocket ‘white’ pizza.
Both were cooked to perfection and truly tasted like a traditional Italian gift. The Margarita is a timeless classic that I couldn’t get enough of. I don’t really know how a dish so simple could taste so incredible but I implore you to try it yourself. The Sicilia was the complete opposite of simplicity; bursting with flavour from the sharp goats cheese and sweet honey – something that you wouldn’t think works, comes together to create a medley of beautiful flavours.
The menu has many options for vegan and vegetarian diners – Gabriele’s Italian friend supplies vegan cheese that again flies out of the kitchen. Calzones are up for offer and thanks to customer feedback, the restaurant now offers a lunch menu; a smaller pizza and soft drink for five pounds, or a beer for seven pounds. The menu is updated quarterly and the specials board contains whatever invention chef has created that day! It seems that the autumn will bring a seafood special and Christmas…a giant dough ball with the toppings of a pizza inside! (You heard it here first). And don’t forget that beer expert Alex is at hand to personalise his booze to your taste buds! I had the luxury of trying (and naming) one of his inventions on site and it was marvellous. Please do check out the ‘Red Amble’ when you pop on down to this little gem of an establishment: Ocho Blanco Tequila, Aperol, Martini Rubino, Cointreau, rhubarb, lemon and Angostura bitters.
If you love Gabriele’s cooking as much as we do then please jump online via their website @EatDoughDough.com and vote for him in the UK National Italian Pizza Championship. Or visit one of their social media platforms all at @EatDoughDough.