It was five years ago that brothers James and Thom Elliot served their first pizza from a stall on Soho’s Berwick Street Market.
They were working in ‘proper’ jobs at the time and whipped up their dough in a local pub on the side.
They now run five pizzerias, as well as a having a space at crazy golf venue Swingers, and are about to open site number six — meanwhile Pizza Pilgrims is consistently ranked as one of the best places for pizza in London.
“The new restaurant is definitely the most grown-up thing we’ve ever done,” says Thom. "You could probably fit all our existing sites into it and still have space left over!”
Pizza Pilgrims West India Quay will open close to Canary Wharf on May 8, with room for 120 diners inside as well as a 70-seater terrace. It will also feature a ‘pizza playground’ comprising of a giant foosball table big enough for 22 players, Nintendo games on a 65-inch TV, and an outdoor boules-style bocce ball court.
“We love the competitive socialising vibe at Swingers, so wanted to bring a bit of that to the site. We are also very keen to make sure each restaurant has something different to offer rather than being a replica of the last,” says Thom.
The opening follows hot on the heels of the launch of a Pizza Pilgrims in Shoreditch in March, where diners can take chocolate bars to made into calzones, and there are also plans for a restaurant in Waterloo and the first out of London site in Oxford.
Were it not for the fact that pizza ovens are proudly and prominently displayed in all their restaurants, you’d say the brothers were cooking on gas.
The growing empire of restaurants, which also includes sites in Soho, Carnaby, Exmouth Market and Covent Garden, certainly isn’t bad for a pair of Brits who knew little more about pizzas than eating them before setting off on a whistlestop tour around Italy to pick up as much as they could in the space of six weeks.
“It was a bit of a gamble, that’s for sure,” says James admitting that since then they have had to learn and re-learn “pretty much everything” as they’ve gone along.
“We had no experience of the industry so it was all new. We’ve been picking up tips and tricks along the way,” he says.
This includes the secret to making the perfect pizza. “We have a pizza bible, which we add to every time we get a new tip,” says Thom. “I think one day we might make a leather-bound version that contains all the wisdom.”
Though they’re clearly doing something right, there’s no sense of having cracked the code.
“Perfect pizza should always be an unattainable goal,” says James somewhat philosophically, “there are always ways you can keep improving.”
“Our many different pizza chefs, a lot of whom are from Naples, all have their own way of doing things,” says Thom. “We are fairly traditional in the way we do it, but we’re not pizza purists — we are open to a bit of experimentation and innovation.”
In the case of a collaboration with Pitt Cue Co, this even included pieces of pineapple — paired with pig head on an alternative version of a Hawaiian.
So, do the brothers ever get bored of pizza? “Not at all,” says James. “It’s like saying are you bored of sandwiches — you can’t be because there are endless varieties.”
“If you are bored of pizza, you are bored of life,” he adds, only half joking.
Perhaps after their upcoming openings, a Pizza Pilgrims sandwich shop could be on the cards.