New York, Chicago, Detroit, Rome, Naples naturally, they all blow the trumpet about their pizza dough being the best. Thin, deep-filled, crusts like craters, they clamour for your attention. And don’t get me started on toppings. The wagyu beef burger version that briefly popped up at that bloated brand trading on its Neapolitan heritage, da Michele seems to have been discreetly discarded, but elsewhere there’s still the vexed validity of pineapple to be squabbled over.
Which brings us to the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ incarnation, selling point of Dokes, a new pizza house in Prestwich with a gratifyingly off-grid difference. We all know no pineapples were axed open in the long-houses of ancient Wessex. Fior di Latte, nduja? Not when parsnip gruel was a treat. Even those pesky olives the Roman conquerors brought with them hadn’t stuck around.
What does probably link the diet of cake-friendly King Alfred and the commitment of Dokes to English ingredients is grain. In Anglo-Saxon the word for a ‘loaf’ (hlaf) is found in the word for ‘lord’ (hlaford), itself derived from the term hlaf-weard, or ‘bread-guardian’. The lord’s wife was known as the hlæfdige, or ‘bread-maker’. The modern term ‘lady’ is derived from this word.
All kinds of grain, notably barley, went into the coarsely ground mix they baked with in rudimentary ovens. It’s not so far removed from Einkorn, one of the earliest cultivated forms of wheat, that contributes to the pizza dough used by Dokes creator and committed ‘antiquarian’ Michael Clay. His restaurant HQ remains Elnecot – first recorded name for its site, Ancoats.
For his new project, which debuted at the food hall, Society, in Barbirolli Square, he sources flour from Gilchester Organics in the North East, favoured by some of the UK’s top chefs, and from Shipton Mill in Tetbury, Gloucestershire.
The springy, almost ethereal dough of the three Dokes pizzas we essayed during the soft launch is down to Shipton’s Heritage Grain Mix. On top of this base the emphasis is on British produce, albeit our indigenous versions of Italian pizza staples. So expect extra virgin rapeseed oil from Yorkshire, salumi and nduja from Curing Rebels in Brighton, creamy British burrata from the home counties and truffles from Wiltshire. To extend the English tomato season from autumn onwards an Isle of Wight confit version will stand in, Michael tells me.
Dokes is not just about pizza. The 40-cover venue offers a full restaurant experience including veg dishes and salads, utilising fresh produce from Cinderwood Market Garden in Cheshire. Yorkshire Pasta Company rigatoni with slow-cooked lamb shoulder and anchovy (£14) was at least the equal of any similar dish I’ve eaten at the lauded Sugo in Ancoats and Altrincham.
In truth, the Anglo-Saxon hype is a bit of a red herring (yes, the invaders did bring herring fisheries with them), but I like the pottery shields that add colour to a dark interior. And who could resist a pizza called Beowulf? You may have encountered the epic through the 3D animated fantasy movie, the hero voiced by Ray Winstone. At Oxford I laboured my way through all 3,000 alliterative lines in the original Old English.
Was it worth it for the denouement with a dragon? What’s it all got to do with a topping of pepperoni, nduja, chilli, burrata and pesto? Odin only knows, but at £12 it’s a treat.
Equally impressive are, at a quid less, an earthy Funghi pizza featuring truffle and confit garlic (Dokes is lavish with the confit garlic, check out the bruschetta above) and, my favourite, The Rollright (£12), which combines the squidgy cheese of that name with new potatoes, smoked bacon, white onion and creme fraiche to create what the Italians call a Pizza Bianca. But we won’t because we’re all Anglo-Saxons now.
Dokes Pizzeria, 449A Bury New Road, Prestwich, Manchester M25 1AF. Open Wednesday-Thursday 12pm-10pm, Friday 12pm-11pm, Saturday 10am-11pm, Sunday 10am-10pm. Brunch at weekends.