I’d been meaning to visit North Adelaide pizzeria Tony Tomatoes for some time, but when I read that it had won the 2016 SA Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering Hostplus Awards for Excellence in the best pizza category, I stopped stalling and made a booking post-haste to see for myself.
Now, I should admit that I went into Tony Tomatoes with fairly strong opinions on what constitutes excellent pizza, and high expectations of Adelaide’s new ‘best in town’. For me, the standard in this city is set by Pizza e Mozzarella Bar (Pirie St) and Antica Pizzeria e Cucina (King William Rd and now Morphett St city), two establishments that offer wonderful Neapolitan-style wood fire pizzas with perfectly executed bases and delicious, fresh, traditional toppings. Honourable mentions also go to the unassuming Cambelltown restaurant Wood Oven Gourmet, and the newer McLaren Vale offering Pizzateca. Further afield, Melbourne’s 400 Gradi, previously awarded the title of the world’s best Margherita, is nothing short of sublime; even after travelling to Naples specifically for a pizza pilgrimage, it remains my single favourite pizza of all time.
So, did my experience at Tony Tomatoes ratify its reputation as Adelaide’s best pizza? In short, no. But I would happily suggest that you go eat there, and here’s why:
Upon entering the restaurant, its most striking feature is its fabulous atmosphere. A large bar commands a central position and is a hub for both diners and drinkers. The crowd is young and fashionable, and on a Saturday night the place is busy and lively. The décor has a stylish retro feel without being an op shop cliché, and the room, while large, avoided feeling like a barn due to subtle room dividers. I won’t lie: I was intensely disappointed when I realised that there was no wood oven. While it is remotely possible that the commercial-looking ovens in the kitchen were secretly some new-fangled modern wood fire contraption, I could detect no evidence of it.
The staff are friendly and efficient, and we were seated and ordered drinks without delay. I always drink prosecco with pizza, and I was pleased to find that the one offered here, although a little pricey at $11 a glass, was a good quality, dry prosecco, perfect as a starter drink or with food. The wine list as a whole provided good balance, with wines from both Italy and South Australia, and catering for a range of price points (from $33 to $80 a bottle).
For a starter we had the Asparagus Arancini (the small serve was ample for two), which were nice, with good flavouring, but could have used some additional seasoning. For the main event, we ordered two pizzas: Margherita and Contadino. A Margherita is always the litmus test for any pizzeria, and unfortunately it was here that I was most disappointed. It wasn’t unpleasant by any means, but with such a simple pizza, there really is nowhere to hide, and the minor imperfections immediately disqualified it from being amongst my favourite. The tomato sauce, while nicely balanced and seasoned, was slightly too reduced for my tastes, a problem exacerbated by the fact that there was simply too much of it on the pizza, meaning that the lovely milky sweetness of the buffalo mozzarella was overshadowed by the intensity of the tomato. More disappointing, however, was the base, which I was expecting to be soft and chewy , Neapolitan-style, but which was rather thin and crispy – overcooked or intentional, I could not tell. The Contadino was, in many ways, redemptive. The base was softer than the one on the Margherita, and the topping of mozzarella, mushrooms, truffle paste, prosciutto and basil was rich and delicious. My favourite course of the night, however, was the dessert, a wonderful pistachio and praline Semifreddo with great texture and flavour.
Despite some of my quibbles, I had a great night at Tony Tomatoes. It is one of those restaurants that is perfect for a Saturday night out with friends. It’s casual enough that you can have a laugh and a good time, but understatedly sophisticated enough to make it an occasion. The wine is quality, there is a nice cocktail list, and the food is good. Just maybe leave your pizza snob friend at home.