I don’t think that I have ever eaten so well as when I was a penniless student in London in 1969.
I had a bedsit in Maida Vale which I couldn’t afford and would hitch-hike up the M1 back to Leeds every couple of weeks to get my washing done by good old mum. On the weekends when I didn’t make a laundry trip I would use my underground season ticket to get to Harrods or Fortnum and Mason sometime during Saturday morning. In those days the food halls of both stores would display plates of free samples on just about every counter, so I would drift up and down the aisles picking away at the various cheeses, meats, fruit and veg, eventually opting for dessert at the patisserie and a few small cubes of cake. Obviously, the quality of the food on offer was exemplary and the forays were the highlight of my week, so much so that I would sometimes make an extra sortie in the evening after classes.
Will all of you hip eateries who think that you discovered ‘small plates’ please take note: I have been enjoying them for almost fifty years. I wish I hadn’t just put that in writing. Where did they go? Anyway, the reason for this nostalgia trip is that I have just dined at Dough Boys in Belgrave Music Hall and, had something similar been in business when I was a student, I would not have needed to scavenge from upmarket department stores as the food is not only ridiculously cheap but also excellent quality.
I have been promising myself a return trip to Belgrave Music Hall since my review of Patty Smith some months ago. For those of you who missed that article, I am sure that you have a doctor’s note excusing you, and have not been to this particular establishment. It is a large hall which doubles as a music venue with a long bar against one wall. Two eateries act as bookends to the bar, one being the aforementioned Patty Smith and the other the also aforementioned Dough Boys.
The first sells burgers and the second large pizza slices. Both supply paper plates and disposable cutlery so are more like takeaways. Dough Boys’ menu is small but perfectly formed with six regular variations and a ‘Special Pizza’, details of which are displayed on a board by the counter. Don’t bother to look for the Hawaiian, Quattro Stagioni or even Margherita as here, they are much more inventive than that. The dough is prepared from scratch on a worktop in full view of the customers (always reassuring) and the finished article is removed from the oven and displayed in a heated glass display unit which doubles as the counter. Normally this would lead to the base going soggy and the topping drying up but such is the popularity of the place that they do not remain on the counter long enough for any harm to come to them.
From the menu, which has three meat and three veg options, I thought that I would do a thorough review and order two pieces. The first one was the Sausage Fest comprising Prosciutto, Spianata, Belgrave Black Pepper Sausage, Marscapone and Caramelised Onions at £3.40. My second choice was Baa No More containing Middle Eastern Spiced Ground Lamb, Pine Nuts, Pomegranate, Pecorino and Baby Red Chard, £3.20. As you would expect the bases were identical in texture and taste, being light as a feather, beautifully melt in the mouth fresh and cooked to perfection. If I have one small gripe, and it is a very small one, it is that the toppings were concentrated in the middle leaving the crust naked. That said, it was good to sample the pure crust to get its full flavour. The quality of the ingredients used for the toppings was phenomenal and I enjoyed every bite of each one. The combination of flavours had been well thought out and melded so well that I had the accumulated effect whilst being able to identify each one separately.
Before I ordered my feast I had taken the precaution of calling at the bar for a medium glass of house red wine at £4.20. When I came to pay for the pizza I thought that I had been affected by its bouquet as I was told that the bill came to £3.30 in total. Normally small print on documents means bad news but here it was quite the opposite in that it stated that between noon and 7pm Sunday to Thursday and noon and 5pm on Friday and Saturday your first two slices of pizza are half price. Sorry, I have another gripe – it actually refers to noon as being 12pm and there is no such time as 12pm or 12am. OK, that’s it.
May I suggest to any cash strapped students, or anyone else for that matter, that before you concoct some scheme to eat as cheaply as you can, give Dough Boys a try. At this price and with this quality, you can’t go wrong.
Photograph by Paul SImon