Chef James Lowe, co-owner of the Michelin-starred Shoreditch restaurant Lyle’s and Borough Market bakery-wine bar Flor, will launch a new pizza delivery brand out of the south London location next week.
ASAP Pizza, which appeared on Instagram last weekend with some very cartoonish block caps for branding, comes after Flor reopened for takeaway bread, pastries, and an instant-hit rhubarb and sesame swirl soft serve ice cream. It will launch for click-and-collect from 5 p.m. on 10 June, with a delivery area including London Bridge, Southwark, Elephant & Castle, and Kennington operating on Deliveroo from 11 June.
The pizza menu, styled as “sourdough pizzas made with heritage British wheats” packing a New York-style vibe, will include both red and white pizzas. It’s riffy: a “Hawaiian” encompassing pickled scotch bonnet, red onion, grilled pineapple, and cured pig’s cheek; a “Tay-to” with potato, taleggio and red onion that reads directly descended from one of Flor’s flatbreads. Describing a pizza topped with green onions, new season garlic, wild garlic, and wild marjoram as “London-centric” is perhaps the best explanation of how ASAP intends to wed contemporary NYC pizza culture with Lyle’s and Flor’s identities.
The offer rounds out with “small plates”, like burrata with preserved lemon and asparagus, and dessert: tiramisu, and ice cream sandwiches from Hackney stalwart of the genre Happy Endings.
The programme will be spearheaded by Pam Yung, who is leading the creative direction at Flor and ASAP. As one of New York City’s most talented bakers and pastry chefs in the mid-2010s, Yung built and ran the pastry programmes at NYC pizza institution Roberta’s, as well as Ignacio Mattos’ ISA. Yung appeared at Lyle’s for a guest series event in July 2017, and has also cooked at the legendary Bonci in Rome, as well as with Massimo Laveglia at L’Industrie Pizzeria in NY, Montreal’s Le Vin Papillon, and Tartine Bakery in Seoul.
When Flor was first announced, its identity centred on wine, small plates, and pastries. Plus flatbreads. In the year since, flatbreads might not have occupied front-and-centre of the daily changing menu, but they have been a consistent feature. The “white” vin jaune and clam flatbread took inspiration from the New England classic clam pie, while others have included red onion, taleggio, and black truffle. To date, Lowe and the Flor team have not put tomato on base. With ASAP Pizza, that is set to change.
In lockdown and without a restaurant kitchen to steward, Lowe has been making pizza at home. Recently, his Instagram stories revealed a white asparagus, gubbeen, spring onion, and garlic effort. The post was accompanied by a few burning fire emojis, indicating it was a successful trial. The impulse is not new: the Lyle’s wood oven has long anchored its style of cooking, and Lowe told Eater this lunchtime that “when we were building Flor, I wanted a wood-fired bread oven — but it wasn’t realistic or possible.” He and business partner John Ogier had “already started thinking about a third site; an offsite bakery for the bread operation that we would share with Bao, which also needed to increase capacity.” While beginning at Flor, Lowe plans to expand ASAP to Lyle’s once the oven there has been rebuilt.
While COVID-19 made that baking impulse more pressing as a business proposition, Lowe calls the at-home testing period “amazing fun,” fine-tuning a desire, together with Yung, to show London a New York pizza culture built on “so many people pushing, doing something interesting” that he doesn’t yet see in his city. He points to Stockholm, too, and specifically restaurant Babette, which opened five years ago as a natural wine bar and pizzeria. Lowe immediately loved it and brought the team to Lyle’s for one of the first Guest Series events. A union between those symbols of modern dining — low intervention wine, devotion to ingredients and suppliers — which in London has not explicitly featured pizza is what ASAP wants to change.
Lowe has not been alone in cooking pizza at home over the last two months: Chefs Nick Bramham of Quality Wines, Black Axe Mangal’s Lee Tiernan, and Vasilis Chamam have all been populating Instagram stories with their neo-Neapolitan style pizza creations in lockdown. For Tiernan, whose restaurant was founded on naturally leavened flatbreads, it wasn’t much of a leap. For the others, well, as much as there’s been a tacit subscription to the idea that there’s “no such thing as bad pizza,” it might also reveal something about making bread in the time of lockdown. Is pizza to chefs what sourdough is to lay food enthusiasts? Who knows. But the arrival of ASAP indicates that lockdown might have hastened the evolution of London pizza culture — in ways that go beyond a short-term cashflow fix, wherein chefs apply the principles already present in their ingredient-led restaurant menus and bread-making to pizza.
As Eater NY’s Ryan Sutton noted in a review of Manhattan’s Una Pizza two years ago, contemporary New York is a “crowded, experimental, ingredient-obsessed, regionally focused pizza biosphere,” where interesting pizza with carefully selected dessert is nothing new. London, by contrast, is a city that has a very healthy Neapolitan pizza scene — Santa Maria, Johnny Take Ue, Pellone, and some decent proprietary operators but its most cutting-edge chefs have, until now, seldom strayed into this realm.
Yung’s arrival coincides with the departure of head baker Anna Higham, who opened Flor with Lowe in 2019, having worked as head of pastry at Lyle’s before that — she was the longest serving member of the kitchen team in the group. Higham announced her departure on Instagram last Friday, saying that her four years with the restaurants was “a career and life defining job.”