I absolutely adore proper Neapolitan pizza after being introduced to it by my former neighbour, a pizzaiolo from Naples who placed third in a recent competition for the UAE’s best Italian pizza. Therefore, I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to pizza and normally shy away from pizza chains. But when I passed 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria in the Mall of the Emirates (not to be confused with the inferior 800 Pizza), I was curious.
You can select a pizza off the menu at a set price or customise your own pizza, with a normal or gluten-free crust and a variety of toppings. They have a wood-fired oven and their pizzas actually looked pretty authentic, each slightly irregular with a charred and blistered crust – just the way I like it. I was told by Italian friends that if a pizza’s good, there’s nothing better than a margherita. Therefore, this is always my benchmark pizza, so we settled on a this and a customised pizza.
I confess, I have this thing about watching experienced Italian pizzaiolos press and flap the dough around, slapping on sauce, and tossing toppings on top, so quickly and effortlessly to produce the perfect pizza. You don’t quite get that effect here. There seems to be an Italian pizzaiolo overseeing the production but at 800 Degrees your pizza is made assembly-line style (by a line of non-Italians). The first in the assembly line slowly and carefully pushes and prods the dough into a round, then very carefully scoops and arranges the sauce before passing the pizza to the next guy.
The next assembly-line pizza maker rips up the ball of fresh mozzarella and arranges it. The next person places the toppings you choose, Subway-style.
I must say, however, that the ingredients they use here are good quality – and this makes all the difference. A basic tomato puree, fresh basil and oregano, Parmigiano-Reggiano and olive oil. Each pizza even gets its own whole ball of fresh mozzarella. Props for that.
The next person in the assembly line takes your payment. Someone else still is responsible for cooking your pizza, which, like a proper Italian pizza, takes less than two minutes in the 800°F degree oven.
When I walked through the assembly line, I admit I was a bit disheartened. For me, the way the pizza’s made contributes to the experience and enjoyment. But when I tasted the pizza, I was taken by surprise. The quality of the pizza was good! I won’t say it’s the best Neapolitan pizza I’ve had (because if I did, my pizzaiolo neighbour would never forgive me) but for the price AED 33 for a margherita, you can’t complain.
Verdict? Well, we already know the ingredients are good, so that’s half the battle. I also always judge my pizza by its crust, which I eat first, dipped in olive oil, when it’s piping hot. The crust was moreish – soft on the inside, crusty on the outside, not too salty yet flavourful with that characteristic wood-fired char. The sauce was perfect – a traditional puree of tomatoes and salt. The toppings were simple – the perfect amount of mozzarella, fresh basil, and a sprinkle of parmesan and olive oil.
This was our custom pizza with a margherita base plus pepperoni, sundried tomatoes and caramelised onions. Though I always prefer a margherita, this one was a great combination too. It’s also quite pretty. My friend’s photo of this pizza got over 200 likes on Instagram!
We also ordered the burrata, beetroot and balsamic salad. I should have reserved judgement, but when I looked at the tiny plate with its plastic tub of balsamic syrup and some not-so-lovingly arranged beetroot, I had a momentary pang of disappointment. But alas, it tasted great – all of the flavours complemented each other and the two varieties of beetroot (a pink and a deep red) was an unexpected bonus. Looking at the photo in retrospect, I have a newfound appreciation for the finer details I overlooked earlier, such as the drizzle of olive oil and pinch of ground pepper on my burrata.
This is yet another fast-casual American restaurant that’s made its way to Dubai. I’ve read reviewers in the US who have commented on the consistency of the 800 Degrees pizza. But even when eating the pizza of award-winning pizzaiolos, you’re not going to get the exact same taste every time. So as much as I’d love to see a Napoletano pizzaiolo making my entire pizza (or perhaps even an assembly line full of Napoletano pizzaiolos), I’m happy to just close my eyes and embrace the unconventional system that enables me to get a reasonably-priced, authentic rendition of a Neapolitan pizza.
Verdict: So happy to have found a Neapolitan pizzeria that can give me my Italian pizza fix and not blow my budget. Will definitely be back. Many times. Now if only there were one closer to the Marina.
Note to self: Stop being so judgemental and let the food speak for itself. And think of more reasons to go to MoE. I’m craving pizza now.
800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza
Mall of the Emirates
Tel: 04 455 1642
Chow for now!