12 O'Connell St
Ph: 0800 365 537
WE THOUGHT: 14 - Good
WE SPENT: $225 for four
Over on the internet, my editor was posting pictures of crayfish and discussing the spanner crab omelette she had eaten for breakfast.
Lovely, I thought. But was she really living her best life? Oysters are nice - but had she ever ordered a Nutella, strawberry, banana and kiwifruit pizza?
Earlier, I had looked at the dessert menu and said: "I have no words."
"Nants ingonyama bagithi baba," said Steph, because she was at an impressionable age when The Lion King was released and, for reasons that never became entirely clear, the Nutella pizza was called "The Circle of Life".
Proper Pizza has come to Auckland via Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia et al. It's all there on the front of the menu, so I won't go into detail but, in short, the guy who started Esquires Coffee went looking for a new business opportunity and instead found a fiancee who happened to live in the country that was home to the very first Proper Pizza. The backstory is a love story that is destined to become an Antipodean franchise. When the moon hits your eye, etc, etc.
I initially thought Proper Pizza was situated in that doomed space that was Meat-Fish-Boring and then Inti (so not boring). Actually, it is next door. An unassuming restaurant on the edge of a mini mall-meets-office block where a visit to the bathroom requires a key, attached to a small frying pan. The simple fit-out is a mix of big and small tables and a tiny raised lounge area. The counter menu lists wine by the bottle or glass but not by variety (or even colour). The paper menu elaborates - Leonardo chianti, Leonardo pinot grigio and Gancia prosecco (all $55).
We sat outside where, further down Vulcan Lane, a busking saxophonist was doing his best impression of New York. Similarities ended there. The pie at this pizza joint was quite unlike any I've eaten in America or, indeed, Italy.
I am fairly certain I am not Proper Pizza's target audience. On Google, I found a promo shot of two young women lying on a bed wearing faded denim cutoffs and white mid-riff tees. One of them has a pizza box on her lap, which is possibly meant to convey sassy fun but just made me feel anxious about grease stains and cheese burns.
I was going to write that there is an awful lot of cheese at Proper Pizza, but there is precisely zero awfulness about cheese, so let's just say that when Bridget stared incredulously at the margherita and said, "Is that CREAM CHEESE?" we all knew it wasn't proper. It was, however, bloody delicious.
Out of curiosity, I had a look at the online reviews for an Albanian-based Proper Pizza. Ten customers scored "terrible" and 12 scored "excellent". The most astute noted: "Pizza is not just flour and ingredients. It is a tradition."
So, if you're from the floppy, foldable, wood-fired, minimalistic school of Naples, don't eat here. But if you have a sense of adventure and like the sound of a crispy base and a uniquely heavily sesame seed crusted-crust, then they do home deliveries until 4am (frankly, you probably have better wine in your kitchen cupboard).
One of their pizzas is made for 4am. Think meatballs, chopped iceberg lettuce, ketchup and cheese. You'd be deported if you tried to sell this in Italy but in O'Connell St, Auckland, The Cheeseburger Pizza kind of worked. Maybe it was the sesame seed crust.
We played it safe with 20cm orders ($12) but the store's biggest offering has a circumference of 60cm. If the large, black, blobby bits on the black truffle pizza were indeed black truffle, then its $17-$68 price range is very good value. Regardless, I liked this pizza a lot. Three types of cheese, pine nuts, mushrooms and a heady whack of truffle-scented oil took me to an earthy, happy place.
My dinner companions were still in school uniform when the Panini Years hit New Zealand and so it was against my better judgment that I let them order the chicken, blue vein and ranch dressing pizza ($16-$67). It was undignified. And it definitely needed cranberry sauce.
Did I mention the filled potato skins? They come with cheese and meat ($9). The Proper Salad ($16) comes with cheese and meat (and also orange). It was fresh and interesting even if we did have to pass the bowl around because there were no side plates.
By now, the waitstaff were so impressed with our consumptive powers they were offering us that dessert pizza, gratis. It looked like a flat pav and tasted ... to be honest, I still have no words. But I do know that at least one of my target audience dining companions dialled Proper Pizza the following night.