It is not everyday that I visit a restaurant specifically for a pizza. People who know me well, would know that I am no big fan of pizza. Ever since a few years ago, Shanghai had steadily been flooded with pizza eateries.
When I caught word of a certain place on Mengzi lu served an exceptionally good pizza ( an area I have lived close to for the past 9 years ) I was naturally skeptical. Truth be told, I had long known about Scarpetta and Coquille. I remember being deterred from the two restaurants because of the pricing; Until about 2 years ago, my budget for meals were under 100rmb. However, that did not stop me from keeping tabs on the buzz around these 2 restaurants, most of which were high praises.
Fast-forward to 2015, I got to know the owner through the restauranteur circles, and eventually met him at my own restaurant before I visited his. John, I’m so sorry it took me so long to visit your place. It was on one lonesome evening that I decided to pop down to give myself a treat.
It is interesting to note that like myself, owner John Liu is a huge foodie and cook, but imparts the everyday cooking to the chefs in the restaurant.
Scarpetta is a homely place. When I stepped through the doors, I felt like I had left Shanghai, and entered a cozy little cottage in a western country side. The space is not huge, but very well organised. Lighting was comfortable, and tables were well spaced. It had a somewhat, sincere rustic feel, as opposed to some restaurants who try too hard to attain the rustic decor. John is clearly a fan of Le Creuset pots, as many Le Creuset pots were showcased on the shelves as part of the decor. 8/10
Service was attentive, and polite. I found nothing to fault during my solo visit that evening.
Water was offered and refilled promptly, and wait times for the dishes was kept short. While they did not go out of the ordinary for me to write about, there was neither anything bad to write about, which I think is a good thing? 8/10
A lonely diner is sometimes quite a sad affair, because there is only so much I can eat, and ate I did that evening. I ordered the signature, award winning pizza I had heard so much about — The vongole pizza, which is topped with standard clams and the lesser-seen-on-pizza razor clams.
To mix things up abit, I also ordered a half-portion of the signature bone marrow bolognese with orecchiette pasta.
The order took about 15 minutes to fulfil, and I was pleased to find a very sizeable pizza when it was served. A lovely garlicky aroma started to fill the space around me.
The crust resembled that of a napolitano pizza, thick but light and airy. As expected, the pizza was topped with an abundance of whole clams and razor clams. Also garnished on the pizza were chopped flat-leaf parsley and what I think was pancetta.
Biting into a slice, I was greeted with a garlicky flavour, along with complex layers of umami; From the clams, the melted cheese, the pancetta and the mysterious garlicky sauce that bound everything together. I suspect the garlicky sauce had some kind of white wine component to it as well.
The crust was as expected, light, crisp and easy to bite through. More importantly, the clams were fresh and very well cleaned. I only had two experiences with abit of fine sand throughout the clams from the entire pizza, that itself is quite an achievement.
I later found out that the marvel in all of this was the fact that this pizza, was baked using an electric oven! One would think that it would take a super high-end wood-fired oven to create something of this quality. I’m afraid I have to offend many of my Italian restauranteur/chef friends in saying that this vongole pizza at Scarpetta, is truly one of, if not the best pizza I have had. I eventually finished the entire pizza, safe for some rims. 9.5/10
Bone Marrow Bolognese
Fortunately for me, the bolognese had a small and regular portion. I opted for the small, which came with half a bone marrow. The seasoning on the pasta was a little bland that evening, but I did enjoy the more rustic bolognese sauce, where the taste of wine and tomato paste is prevalent. However, I thought the bone marrow was simply a portion of flavourless fatty tissue. While it did add some richness to the dish when mixed together, along side the visual impact of its presentation, I felt it didn’t add much flavour. I did appreciate the fact that the pasta was freshly made and cooked al dente. On the whole, it was a decent dish, probably good for sharing because after a few bites, you either get bored with it or feel really cloy from the fatty marrow. 8/10
While what I ate was a small sample of the menu, I can already highly recommend to visit simply for the vongole pizza alone. The menu, like my own restaurant has been kept compact on one page, I suppose to only showcase the best of what they have to offer. Prices are slightly above average, at this time, I can only assure you that the vongole pizza is well worth the price.
The vongole pizza at Scarpetta has risen up and shone brightly like a lighthouse across the sea of pizza mediocrity in Shanghai.