Pizza is enjoyed by the many, but only a few places do it true justice. Luckily in Bristol, we’re spoilt for choice. Until recently, I held a strong allegiance to Zero Degrees, a microbrewery with an eclectic and slightly bonkers range of wood-fired pizzas with the flavours to match. This, however, was before my encounter with the brilliant Bertha’s.
Late last summer, Bertha’s Pizza claimed the original stables of the old Bristol gaol as their new home. Owners Graham and Kate previously dished up sourdough staples at local food markets, served from their yellow land rover with an inbuilt oven. Since opening their own place, the restaurant hasn’t stopped receiving the love it deserves. With countless rave reviews from local foodies, it seems that Bertha’s have firmly claimed their place within the Bristol food scene.
Compared to its current landscape – a buzzing hub of local eateries and retail shops – Wapping Wharf was unrecognizable a few years back. Joint owner Kate, said: ‘We’ve been open for over a year now, and back then we were pretty much the first ones here. We haven’t run our own restaurant before, but luckily the Bristol food community are so close, so that has been a great support for us.’
Though newbies to the restaurant scene, it’s clear to see that Bertha’s aren’t amateurs at the game. Their eye for the technical was recognised back when Bertha was running on a four-by-four, with their notable nomination for ‘best street food or takeaway’ for BBC’s Food and Farming Awards. They’ve also seen recognition from The Guardian, who recently granted Bertha a spot within the top ten pizzerias outside the capital. With this in mind, it seemed almost too good to be true.
Possibly as a testament to their talent, Bertha’s was packed for an early Wednesday evening. The space is decorated to a subtle effect, its central feature being a beautiful large mural of Bristol (featuring the Bertha land rover driving around the Harbourside). The space feels warm, welcoming and gives no gimmicks. Give or take a sprinkling of fairy lights and some sunny yellow chairs, the place feels as if you’re in someone’s (rather lovely) home.
If lucky enough to bag a balcony seat, you’re awarded a prime view overlooking the kitchen staff working their magic (never has the wait for food been more enjoyable; it’s great waiting just to spot your order being prepared). Perhaps what’s most charming is the oven itself; Bertha is a 3 tonne, hand built Neapolitan oven. Pizzas are cooked in 500-degree heat and take a mere 60 seconds to cook. Made in Naples, she was rolled in through the side door and hasn’t moved since.
Provenance and community is a key ingredient to Bertha’s success, Kate says: ‘Though our menu is not strictly local, sourcing from Bristol suppliers is very important to us. All of the cheese we use apart from our mozzarella is supplied by Bristol Cheesemonger a few doors down.’
‘We believe there’s brilliant farming methods from small suppliers who do it well and naturally from all over, our meat for example is from a supplier in Italy. We also do our share of things in house: we smoke our almonds and season the sausages on the ‘Sausagefest’ pizza. Our front of house also play an active role in the running of the restaurant: Pete designs cocktails and decides which gin will taste great in our Negroni, and Helen makes all the ice-cream you see on the menu. We tweak our guest wine and beer, but similar to the main menu, we like to keep it simple.’
Seasonality also plays a part in the reshaping of the menu. Take their new ‘Zucca’ pizza (£12.50): butternut squash puree, mozzarella, blue cheese, N’duja and basil. ‘We ferment the kimchi on our ‘Kimcheese’ pizza’, Kates says: ‘We source the chard and turnip tips from a local allotment.’
Staying true to tradition whilst adapting to the seasons, there’s plenty of opportunity to discover the pizza of your dreams. With some contemplative decision making, we ordered two of the seasonal dishes. After an eager wait, with a brief interlude of smoked almonds (£3) and Nocellara olives (£3.50), the pizzas had arrived: Neapolitan style, sourdough base with lofty crusts, an oozing center and flecks of chard on the crust. Safe to say the pizza of my dreams was discovered here: a blue cheese, mozzarella, chard & turnip tops kimchi feast (£11). A flavor sensation and a taste unlike any other. To top it all off, the crusts were accompanied with three of their delicious homemade dips: spiced honey, garlic butter and a BBQ sauce made of pomegranates. Inevitably, both plates were left without a crust in sight.
As expected, the dough, super lofty and chewy, is worthy of reward. They’ve worked hard over the years to get these results, claiming to be on their 186th iteration of their dough formula. Fermented over several days, the long proof gives the natural enzymes time to do break the gluten down with an outcome both delicious and digestible (who knew dough had to be so technical to taste so good?). Luckily the proof was in the pizza – you finish feeling satisfied, without that overly bloated/so stuffed I must be rolled back to bed feeling.
Though these are not necessarily the cheapest pizzas in town, (ranging from £6-12.80), the pricing is in every respect justifiable. After all, if you’re game for tasting the finest pizza on offer, why not pay the price it deserves?
Long gone are the days of the thin-crust base and the regretful late-night Dominoes order (with an even more regretful price tag) – Bertha is here to show everyone how it should be done. Firmly set on the path to pizzeria stardom, Bristol’s beloved Bertha’s is a must-eat, no tricks, just treat gem of a restaurant.