This isn’t so much a food review as an inspiring story about a broken building and years of dirty, hard manual work resulting in a cool, stylish place with added pizza. Two women had a dream, to renovate an unloved, abandoned building and create a place where people met, ate, drank and chatted – a restaurant in fact.
Lots of folk have that dream, you might argue, and many of them follow it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Site has worked so well, it’s as if it’s always been there. Even when you know how much effort’s gone in, the result appears effortless.
Three years ago Natalie Barrass and Olly Bamford bought at auction a handsome but dilapidated old stone former tailor’s shop in an unglamorous corner of Todmorden.
Neither of them really knew what they were letting themselves in for. Talk about a pig in a poke. At one point – possibly the nadir of their renovation – there were few walls and no floors, so the ground floor was terrifyingly visible from the third.
Natalie wondered if the decision to give up her job in child protection was a wise one. Olly, a London-based full-time nurse was travelling to Yorkshire and putting in inhumanly long hours over the weekends.
Together they dug 60 tons of rubble out of the basement – now a kitchen and storage area, resplendent with immaculate cleaned stone arches, an area the public will never see but still with the same attention to detail, a theme that runs through this entire project. The sheets of mild steel that line the bar had been quarantined by a fabricator in Burnley because they had rust spots – exactly the look they were after – in fact they salted them and left them to the elements for weeks to bash them up even more. The battered tall tables had a previous life as floorboards in Olly’s Harrow flat, others were recycled from the scaffolding that wrapped round the building for three years. Nothing matches, everything’s pre-loved/up-cycled or found in skips but it works stunningly well.
I asked Natalie about the impressive, original paintings, expecting to hear that they put aside a part of their budget to buy studio-based art. Oh no, comes back the reply, these were made by a friend using the boards the builders used to mix the plaster on.
But you’ve turned to this page wanting to know about food. It’s a single concept and the concept is pizza. There’s a wood-fired oven that resembles something from Teletubbies and it spits out an absolute beauty topped with spicy sausage, red pepper, mozzarella and giant Greek beans. It’s always a good sign that you’re going to get a good pizza if you spot the chef spinning the dough; chances are you’re in safe hands. And so it proves – it’s as good as any pizza found on street corners in Naples, the highest compliment I can pay.
The base is thin, crisp and oval with bubbles round the edge, the topping just right. Quartered, folded and eaten with your fingers, it’s perfect washed down with a gutsy Barbera. There are seven or eight choices including a vegan option that has roast red pepper, artichoke and pine nuts on it, so not just an apology for people with food fads.
Starters include chicken liver pate and an antipasti platter piled high with charcuterie, olives and very good mozzarella and for afters, homemade tiramisu and an excellent affogato al caffe. The wine list is short but thoughtfully constructed, there are shelves of local craft beers and local barista Alfie Raw has been co-opted to make the most of the gleaming Italian machine using Kimbo coffee, another Napolese institution.
Out back there’s a secluded yard that’s still under construction, but come spring the Plane trees will be out, the decking will be spruced up and it will be the perfect spot for passing cyclists to re-fuel before they tackle another impossible hill. Or for us locals to kick back for an hour and enjoy Alfie’s efforts.
In the meantime we gazed out of the window onto rain-lashed Rochdale Road, forgetting for an instant where we were. Site is a cool, stylish addition to Todmorden’s burgeoning food scene, and Natalie and Olly have created somewhere really special; a stylish, warm, friendly space full of genuine charm that just happens to serve great pizza.
• Site Pizzeria, 43 Rochdale Road, Todmorden, OL14 6LD. 01706 81560, www.sitepizzeria.co.uk. Closed Monday and Tuesday.