Chris Taylor finds his new favourite pizza place in Prestwich
There’s a new series on Netflix called Chef’s Table: Pizza. It goes behind the scenes in the kitchens and lives of the world’s most influential pizza chefs. The majority of these are angsty Italian, or Italian-descended men with little to no hair, who spend around 18 hours a day obsessing over different types of wheat or tomato. It’s great telly, especially for fans of pizza, you can see how their work, dedication and imagination have fed down onto our high streets.
You could taste the herbs and spices and, with apologies to any vegetarians reading, the animal too.
It used to be that a pizza out meant a luridly coloured chain restaurant where the food tasted like baked Play-Doh covered in dubious cheese and terrible tomato sauce, but that’s no longer the case. We live in a golden age for pizza lovers, the scorched earth of the Great Mancunian Burger Wars that raged a decade or so ago, where every street had a restaurant selling triple-stacked patties garnished with Monster Munch or candy floss or Haribo Tangfastics has instead been filled by outlets selling every type of pizza imaginable. Deep dish, Detroit-style, Neapolitan, sourdough. The choice is almost endless, and most of them are very good.
So to make a dent in the highly-competitive Manchester pizza scene you’ve got to be good, or different, preferably both. And Dokes in Prestwich is giving it a fair old crack.
We went on a Friday night, and it was pretty much booked out. We got a table in the bar area, which we were informed would be on low or high stools and possibly not suitable for everyone. It was fine for me though. I’d stand up to eat pizza if I had to.
The restaurant was small, the lighting dark, and the decor lowkey – bare brick walls on one side, and a painted wall with large plates on an up-lit shelf on the other. It felt more like a cocktail bar or higher-end restaurant than a pizza place, which makes sense as the architects who designed it also worked on Erst and Freight Island. The clientele matched the feel of the place too. Young, stylish, modern. It came as no surprise that the person behind Dokes is Michael Clay, who owns Elnecot in Ancoats. It started as a stall in Society while Clay looked for a community for his brick-and-mortar site to support.
He found it in Prestwich - and community is at the heart of everything Dokes does. All the ingredients are local, or at least British. This was at its most evident with our starter, British Charcuterie (£15). Sourced from a company called Curing Rebels based in Brighton, the plate of various salami, ham and bresaola weren’t waxy and generic like lots of tasteless cured meat selections. You could taste the herbs and spices and, with apologies to any vegetarians reading, the animal too. Served with some toasted bread drizzled with oil, it was a delight.
The bruschetta (£8) provided three bites of different flavours – nduja and goat’s cheese, tomato garlic and basil, and creamed mushroom - kept simple so the good quality ingredients could sing. It’s clear that Dokes is trying and succeeding to do things differently.
The pizzas were not the thin, wood-fired bases so currently in vogue everywhere else. The base was slightly thicker and crispier, cooked at high heat in an electric cooker for four minutes. The Margherita (£8), ordered as a control sample, an investigation into how well they do the basics, was a triumph. The base, while I do prefer the thinner, more burnt wood-fired style, was airy and crisp with a rich and sweet tomato sauce. The cheese was fior di latte, a sort of mozzarella made from cow’s milk, it melted into a browned and rubbery, stringy lump of milky aceness. This was serious pizza.
Ananas (£10) was a typical refined take on the ever-controversial Hawaiian. Caramelised pineapple chunks, prosciutto cotto and confit onion made for an impressive sounding and gentrified ham and pineapple pizza. The pineapple dominated proceedings though, and I ended up gazing enviously at the Margherita, pining for the simpler tastes and flavours. In my quest to be edgy and divisive I fucked up. There’s a lesson there.
We were recommended the Rigatoni with slow-cooked lamb shoulder, anchovy and olive (£14), and being as greedy as we are suggestible, we went for it. I justified our gluttony as investigative journalism but it was an unnecessary dish that, despite being very well cooked, just didn’t land. The anchovy, which is often added just for the saltiness, was a little too fishy, and fish and lamb are not natural bedfellows. There’s a reason why wool shrinks in cold water.
Caramelised peaches with mint and mascarpone (£6) were sublime, juicy, soft and bursting with flavour. The mascarpone added a cool and sweet freshness, a delicate plate that danced lightly after two heavy courses. While eating the Midnight Oil “Lightning Boy” affogato (£7.50), espresso coffee poured over ice cream, my mate looked wistfully into the distance. I thought he was lost in his own musing, pondering the bitter v sweet and hot v cold paradox, but he said it was just brain freeze from eating it too quickly. He never was much of a poet.
I loved Dokes. I loved the dark and buzzing atmosphere. I loved the service, friendly, passionate, and knowledgeable. I loved the food, which managed to be both simple and difficult at the same time. I loved the philosophy behind it all, taking a universal food like pizza but rooting it firmly in this city, county and country. It’s a crowded market for pizza places right now; Dokes could possibly be the best, but it’s without hesitation my favourite.
Dokes Pizzeria, 449A Bury New Rd, Prestwich, Manchester M25 1AF
Follow Chris on Twitter @christotaylo
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
British charcuterie 8.5, bruschetta 7.5, margherita 8.5, ananas 7.5, rigatoni 6.5, caramelised peaches 7.5, affogato 7.5
Friendly, knowledgeable, passionate. The team made us feel welcome and valued.
Dark, inviting, busy without being noisy. A lovely place to sit and eat.