vico counterThree new fast-casual restaurants bring pizza-by-the-slice to Charing Cross road in Central London.

Here are my early takes based on single visits to NY FOLD, Fornetto and Vico.

NY FOLD

triangle nycutNY FOLDThe New Yorkese way to attack a triangular slice cut from a large pizza is to fold it lengthwise, pinching the two corners at the top. This is what’s meant by “NY FOLD”.

But when I, a native NYer with decades of hands-on experience, tried to bend one of NY FOLD’s triangles down the middle it cracked instead. One large segment broke off from a corner. #NYFAIL

NYFOLD cracksThe crust was strangely brittle, hence the embarrassing break, but hardly bad. What will keep me from going back to this sleekly styled but tragically named slice joint, presumably a fast-casual showcase for a chain-in-the-making, is the utter blandness of the basic £3.95 Margherita slice. The red sauce may have been robust and flavourful, as the menu promises, but who could tell? Talk about scant: It must’ve been applied to the surface of the stretched dough with a nose dropper. There was ample melty mozzarella to fill you up but it desperately needed something with salt, such as grated grated Pecorino Romano. Or salt.

If you do go to NY FOLD, out of convenience or curiosity, I’d recommend, (A), your ordering something jazzier with more toppings and, (B), attacking your slice with fork and knife.

103 Charing Cross Rd, London, WC2H 0DT

FORNETTO

fornettoSnug Fornetto operates much like any pizza al taglio shop in Rome. Rectangular slabs of pizza pre-baked in a shallow tray are lined up in a glass display case. You point to the pizza variety you want. Ordinarily the server proposes various sizes by moving his cutter forward or backward, like a cheesemonger. But here at Fornetto you pay by the fixed portion, not the weight – from £3 per slice.

speck taleggioI like the pizza, with its airy crust, and love its location near the National Portrait Gallery, between Leicester and Trafalgar Squares. I’ll be back, even if some toppings lack punch and panache.

needs basilThe Margherita (above right) was seasoned with stealth basil. I asked if we were expected to tear off fresh leaves from the potted basil sitting on counter against the wall. The charming Italian woman in charge smiled. The basil plant was intended for decoration, she explained, but if I wanted to help myself no one would stop me.

21 Charing Cross Rd, London, WC2H 0ET21

basil plant

 

VICO

With Vico the team behind Bocca di Lupa, an acclaimed Soho trattoria, and Gelupo, a cherished London gelateria, turn their attention to quick, ready-to-eat Italian food. They call it “street food”, adopting the lingo preferred by property redevelopers, and liken the soaring, whimsically designed indoor food hall to a piazza – without, needless to say, the danger of being hit by a passing Piaggio, pigeon or panhandler.

If you are approached by a stranger on the pavement outside it will likely be by someone handing you a coupon for a free slice of Roman-style pizza al taglio. I used mine for one topped with guanciale (cured pork cheek), Pecorino Romano and pumpkin purée. It was a Halloween Carbonara, with the seasonal substitution of orange pumpkin for yellow egg, and it worked.

vico pumpkin

The crust of Vico’s pizza al taglio – £3 price for a small, 100-gram serving –  has a pleasantly crisp, with the small air pockets in its interior crumb collapsing to pressure. It feels right.

If the goal is decent pizza with good, creative toppings in a clean, upbeat environment that does much more than just pizza then make no mistake: Vico is viable, scalable, enjoyable and Westfield-ready.

But there is little evidence of craft in preparation and pride in presentation. When you approach the counter to order at a pizza al taglio shop your decision should not be an easy one: You’re picking from pizzas on display, not on a menu, and each variety should look more unmissable than the next. You should feel like a kid at an ice cream shop, overcome with excitement and paralysed with indecision.

Vico will disappoint dreamers like me who admire chef-owner Jacob Kenedy and were hoping it would accomplish for London pizza what Gelupo did for its gelato. At Vico there’s no eye candy in the pizza display case. You make your choice almost by default. It’s destination pizza only if your destination is Cambridge Circus.

1 Cambridge Circus, London, WC2H 8PA

vico margherita