As is the case with many 10-year-olds, I suspect, my daughter’s favourite food is pizza. I monitor her intake, obviously, but I’m quite sure that, given the opportunity, she’d eat it for three meals a day and a midnight snack.
Imagine her excitement, then, when I recently announced that I was taking her and her brother to Rome. Never mind the Trevi Fountain or the Colosseum, what excited her was the thought of holidaying in the home of the pizza.
We were both surprised, however, when it turned out she wasn’t much enamoured of Roman pizza. She found the base too thin and the top overloaded with mozzarella. Rather than spend our time in Italy pointing out that pizza is supposed to be like that, I happily kept schtum and mopped up whichever slices she left unfinished. In our house, we call this “Dad Tax”.
A week after our return and we’re sat in the slightly less celebrated surrounds of Howden and the newly opened Peel & Ash. She’s munching on one of their wood-fired pizzas and cheerily declaring it the second-best she’s ever tasted. The first-best is always my homemade pizza, because she’s something of a crawler. Rome 0 Howden 1, apparently.
Peel & Ash is to be found up the lovely little crooked alley off the market place known as Vicar Lane, almost in the shadow of the minster. The oddly laid-out former hairdressing salon has been taken on by journeyman chef Ian Wilkinson and wife Kris and turned into a small but comfortable L-shaped, two-storey restaurant. Ian and Kris previously operated a pop-up pizzeria from their home with proceeds from occasional garden pizza parties and takeaway going to charity.
Peel & Ash (you should be able to work out the meaning of the name yourselves) is intended to be the start of a long-term retirement plan and is consequently open only Wednesday to Saturday. If the ram-jammed early evening we visited is anything to go by, though, more nights or bigger premises may be demanded soon.
While the main offering is pizza, there are a few starters and sides to bolster the menu. Recommended are the mixed platter and the goat’s cheese bonbons. At £6.50 (or £13 as a main), the platter is nicely balanced and well thought through. There isn’t the over-abundance of salad or stack of filling bread that often disguises the paucity of other components which can sometimes mar sharing boards; just meats, cheeses, pickles, olives, various bruschetta and a big spoonful of roasted vine tomatoes and feta.
Non-pizza fans will pick away perfectly happily while taking occasional excursions to the goat’s cheese bonbons. £4 buys you about eight or nine gorgeous, melty, crispy, crumbly, little balls of cheese which taste great by themselves, but are beautiful when dipped in the supplied heap of raspberry sherbet. I’ve worked it out and you could eat 37 of them before you feel ill.
It was while tossing multiple bonbons swiftly mouthward that I realised what I like about Peel & Ash. I mean this in the nicest way possible, Peel & Ash is better than it needs to be. The food is great, but there are lovely little touches everywhere that help your meal sing out.
The bonbons, for a very simple instance, are served in a candy-striped goodie bag. There’s no need to do that, most places would just put them in a wire basket or some such. The fact that Peel & Ash bothers to go the extra distance, though, is very appealing and shouldn’t go unnoticed. There were plenty of other similar examples but I encourage you to discover them for yourselves.
And so, to the pizzas. My daughter had tandoori chicken and grinned heartily as a result. Marinated chicken, coriander, red onion and raita on a not-too-thin (her words) and enjoyably-chewy base. I should have taken the relatively healthy option of brie and pear, partly because I have a rule of always having things I’ve not tried before. The menu had black pudding, bacon and chorizo pizza, though, and health and curiosity get trumped by dead pig three ways every time.
My pizza was blathered in unhealthy magnificence, so of course it was very good. All pizzas are 12in, use fresh dough and there are about a dozen options ranging from £7.50 to £11. I seriously doubt any of them are less than excellent.
We didn’t have dessert but next time we visit I’ll be insisting on the sweet pizza ring, which is apparently a round pizza, folded calzone-style and filled with ricotta, Nutella, banana and ice cream. I’ve no idea what the kids will have.
At this point I have to pull rank on my daughter and say that the pizzas at Peel & Ash aren’t as good as those you get in Rome. They are, though, as good as you’ll find in the UK and that should be enough recommendation to encourage you to give them a go the next time you’re passing Howden.
Ian and Kris have, almost accidentally, opened the best restaurant in the town and, if punters keep ploughing through the door in the numbers they have, their retirement will be very comfortable indeed.
Peel & Ash, 5 Vicar Lane, Howden DN14 7BP. 01430 235094, peelandash.co.uk. Open: Wednesday to Saturday, 5-10pm.