Food review: Saporita, St Andrews Hill in Norwich
PUBLISHED: 08:30 28 November 2018 | UPDATED: 11:01 28 November 2018
Few foods are more simple, versatile and universally popular as pizza.
And there can be few Norfolk restaurants that take such a fresh approach to pizza as Saporita, the family-run Italian diner that’s won a small legion of fans since it opened in the Norwich Lanes in early 2017.
The venue was even shortlisted for a couple of gongs - best family-owned restaurant and favourite Italian business - at the recent English Italian Awards - a brilliant effort for a place less than two years old.
After my visit I can attest that what’s on the plate is excellent, but the food is just part of the appeal of this little spot that already feels like my culinary second home.
After booking a table for two on a Saturday evening, my wife Becca and I arrive 15 minutes early to find just about all of the roughly two dozen table seats already occupied.
No matter, says the waitress, and we perch on stools at a side-bar to enjoy complimentary crisps, nuts and a glasses of red until 7pm swings around.
Perusing the menu seems like a matter of form more than anything else - we’ve come with a plan known as the ‘non-stop pizza and a drink for £14’ offer.
But this isn’t a pizza chain where you have to shuttle back and forth to a buffet table.
Once each pizza is out of the oven a staff member caries it through on a large wooden board and weaves around the tightly-packed room, dishing up a slice to everyone who’s in for the same deal.
It makes you feel like everyone there is part of one, big extended family, seen to by a cheerful mamma who just wants you all to get fat and be happy.
The first slice, announced with a flourish, is Di Parma, which stars wafer-thin slices of the famous ham above layers of mozzarella and tomato sauce, atop a crisp, doughy base which, the menu say, has been on the rise for 48 hours.
“Did you know that when you drive past Parma, you can smell the ham?” says Becca, who has apparently been there and done it.
I did not, and to be honest I can’t even smell it now. It tastes brilliant though, tender with a hint of honey.
Next on our plates comes the Formaggi, which sees mozzarella joined by a wonderfully nutty fontina and salty gorgonzola.
We also try the Delizia, combining rashers of pancetta bacon with olives, the Genovese with dollops of lovely green pesto and the Diavola, which features blazingly hot slices of spianata calabrese salami.
Mamma asks if we want to go on, and although Becca is starting to flag I’m feeling like a kid on Christmas morning eager to discover what delights adorn the next wedge.
I have second slice of Di Parma and then turn to a beautifully briny Napoli, heavy with anchovies and black olives.
‘I’m winding up now’ I declare, and I’m brought two slices at once: Montanaro with gorgonzola and speck and Lucifero with mushrooms and a spicy salami called ndujua.
This little duo not only look lovely together on the plate, but become my favourite chapters in this sprawling, two-and-a-half-hour long saga.
I dare not count how many slices I’ve had, but I can safely say I’ve given pizza chance, ha!
And though I’m full to bursting I still order desert - tiramisu is on the menu and it can’t be helped. The pudding is presented beautifully in a raised cup, its cocoa-powder sprayed contents rich and creamy.
The evening ends with a espresso, glass of water and a resolution to return for more fine Italian grub, perhaps for something other than pizza, maybe for lunch, and definitely soon.
How does it measure up?
There’s a short and simple drinks menu with a couple of wine options as well as prosecco, soft drinks, coffee and something I’ve never seen before called Estathe’, an Italian iced tea. To kick things off you can also help yourself a range of aperitives including a bitter orange beverage called Crodino, spritz or cocktails Sbagliato and Negroni.
We opt to keep things simple and order up a couple of bottles of Birra Moretti.
Snug and unpretentious, Saporita’s environs are the perfect place to unwind and relax. An array of meats and cheeses are on offer to buy in bulk, and there is also focaccia and panini on display. Walls are filled with framed posters of Italian tropes like Lambretta and Nutella. Moka pots, fiascos and dried chillies hang from a beam, and lamp holders, bright blue window shutters and flower troughs set a breezy Med mood.
There’s just one step to get up and inside, and then it’s all on one level and easy to get around. There’s a disabled-friendly bathroom, and a high-chair stands ready to cater for pint-sized diners.
The staff at Saporita make you feel like you’re in the company of that distantly-related Italian branch of the family that you hardly ever find the time to visit but you’re always thrilled when you do. With little touches like complimentary wine and nibbles for arriving early, and bringing out two slices of pizza after asking for just one more, how could you possibly be disappointed?
There’s a single loo in the corner of the dining room, which is clean and well serviced.
Saporita is a short stroll down St Andrews Hill, off the pedestrian thoroughfare that is Norwich’s London Street. The closest places to leave your car are either the St Andrews Car Park or Castle Mall Car Park.
This is a venue where you can enjoy restaurant quality food on a takeaway budget. Our bill came to £38.10 for two bottles of beer, two desserts, water, coffee and all the pizza we could stomach, not to mention the free stuff at the start. The ‘non-stop pizza’ deal is just on Saturday evenings. You’ll pay £2.40-£3.80 if you’re buying pizza by the slice. There’s also a range of panini for £4.20, as well as focaccia and piadina - a thinner variation - for £4. Vegetarian and vegan variations are £3.70.
Each pizza is made with the same base and is topped with just a few ingredients, allowing their quality to shine through. Of all the slices I swallowed the mushroom-and-salami-topped Lucifero was the standout.
Sitting at a table at Saporita having slice after slice of delicious pizza brought out to you is a fine way to spend an evening.
An experience, perhaps, best enjoyed with a large group of friends and family, plenty of time, and few cares.
3 great dishes to try
1. Whole mixed topping pizza - If you don’t find yourself there on a Saturday evening, this 16 inch medley will let you sample the finest of Saporita’s ingredients for £22.
2. Tiramisu - A sure-fire way to finish a fantastic pizza marathon, the tiramisu here could well be one of the finest in the city.
3. Pizza vegetariana - Vegetarians will want to sample a slice of Saporita’s signature meat-free snack.