An unremarkable stretch of Holloway Road on a rainy Saturday night was not what I was expecting, but this was the location of my dinner date.
Before your mind races ahead wondering ‘who’s the lucky guy?’ (naturally…), ‘first date or second?’ and so on, remember that I write about my solo antics out and about – it’s in the name, haha. So tonight was a dinner date with myself. I eat out alone a lot, and absolutely love it, but I don’t often make conscious dinner plans to eat out solo, don’t really know why. This night, however, I just felt like going out and trying somewhere new, so I hopped into the car and drove off with an idea of a couple of places I wanted to eat. Maybe I should do it more often because this turned out to be a very good idea.
I have only myself to please, so I choose two of my absolute favourite foods: pizza and ice cream. I want to try the former at Zia Lucia, a fairly new pizzeria which offers traditional Italian pizzas on a variety of bases, and then go on for dessert at Cookies and Scream, which happens to be almost across the road.
First, pizza at Zia Lucia
I baulk a little at the small crowd waiting outside Zia Lucia. It’s clearly popular. I’m wondering what to do if I have to wait for a table.
One of the many advantages of being a solo diner is that you can often nip to the front of the queue and ask if they have any seating for one. I duly did so, and was invited to sit at the bar, saving me a 20 minute wait. From the moment I was seated, my evening truly began.
The place is packed, and the bar seemed to be the nexus of the activity, where kitchen and service meet: on one side are the pizzaiolos, making pizzas; on the other are the wait staff, frequently stopping by to collect orders from the bar which is lined with plates and boxes waiting for piping hot pizza to be dropped into it. Seaming the two together is the manager, who stands guard by the bar with the queue of orders on paper in front of him, matching them to the steaming, topped disc of doughs waiting in line, casting his eye over each one to make sure it passes the test and is ready to be delivered to its owner. Now I have been thrown into the action, sitting amongst the cutlery, plates and salt and pepper shakers on the bar. I feel like apologising to the staff who reach around me for napkins, forks, and plates, but they graciously smile and navigate around me. It is gloriously chaotic, and I am in the heart of it.
It quickly becomes clear to me I have the best seat in the house: I have a ringside view of the pizza-making action (and can have a nose at the pizzas being made). Within minutes I am mesmerised by the scene in front of me: three pizzaiolos, artisans of their craft (I am informed), all working independently but with each other in a focused dance in which dough is cut, stretched, topped and inserted into a fire-breathing oven.
The hum of energy emanating from here feeds into the warm and welcoming environment in the small pizzeria; caught in the magnetic activity, wrapped in the warmth, with the voiceover of constant chatter and commands in Italian, I pass the threshold from North London to Italy. It is the only pizzeria in London where I feel like I am in Naples.
I am happy, content; I have become part of the scene here. So absorbed am I by the activity in front of me, I only realise much later that I have been waiting half an hour for my pizza. I prompted the waitress, who swiftly checks and tells me it would arrive imminently.
My pizza finally arrives, steaming and literally seconds out of the oven. I ordered the Margherita on a charcoal base, often my Litmus test for a new pizza place. I dig in ravenously. My gamble on the charcoal base pays off: it is light and airy, exactly like the traditional version. I almost inhale mouthfuls of cloud like dough with tangy, flavoursome tomato sauce and some cheese (not quite enough in my opinion, but the rest of the pizza was so good I almost didn’t miss it – I will ask them to have a more generous hand next time, though). Within minutes, I devour my pizza and when I (reluctantly) leave soon after, the restaurant is as busy as when I arrived.
Next course: dessert at Cookies and Scream
I leave Italy and step on the back of the streets of North London, but in the darkness I still have something else to look forward to: dessert! I cross the road and enter Cookies and Scream, a VEGAN bakery and ice cream bar which has a good reputation for doing almost unbelievably good desserts (given that they’re vegan).
It’s almost closing time, and it’s quiet. I peruse the menu and ask different questions about what’s what: the lovely guy behind the counter answers them patiently. Being the end of the day, they are out of a number of things (including the peanut butter cookies! Noooo) so I opt for a Zombie milkshake which combines any two of their flavours into a milkshake. I go for cookie dough and chocolate fudge. I’m a little sceptical about how good a vegan shake might taste, but then I get given this…
I actually can’t believe what I’ve been given – a mountain in a cup, a sundae under the guise of a milkshake, with lumps of cookie dough sticking out of it surrounded by pools of molten chocolate fudge (all made in house by the way – and all vegan!), and when I taste it, I can’t believe it’s vegan. It’s incredible, one of the best milkshake-sundaes I’ve ever had (let’s be straight, this is more a sundae than a shake, I needed a spoon and straw). It’s thick, rich, and hits that very demanding sweet spot which rarely happens. It’s very, very satisfying.
My contentment continues unabated. I sip and bite alternately, and shortly amble back to my car to drive back home. On a dark, rainy evening, I have been to Italy and Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in quick succession, and I could do it all over again the next day. A real treat. On the way back, the drive doesn’t seem so long.