Takeaway review: VIP Very Italian Pizza

The world of Deliveroo can be a strange one, if you fire it up on an average night trying to pick something to have for your dinner. You’ll find all sorts – exactly the sort of restaurants you’d expect to be on Deliveroo, restaurants you’d never go for in a million years, random shops (Lloyds Pharmacy, anybody?) restaurants you probably thought were “too good” for Deliveroo and the occasional complete curveball. It’s a bit like Tinder, that other great digital gratifier, in that respect: a real mixed bag.

You’ll also find restaurants that don’t really exist, but happen to be the Deliveroo-only name for a restaurant you do know. So for instance Madras Flavours, a vegetarian South Indian restaurant, opened recently in the spot where Chennai Dosa used to be, across from the library. They’re on Deliveroo, as you might expect. What you might not expect is that also on Deliveroo, and operating from exactly the same address, are restaurants called Epic Momos, Soul Chutney, Indie Wok, Hyderabadi Biryani Club and (my personal favourite), “Fatt Monk”.

And that’s literally not even the half of it: at the time of writing there are no less than twenty-nine different Indian restaurants, all with virtually identical menus, operating on Deliveroo from the same premises on Kings Road. What’s that all about? Why split all your positive feedback between twenty-nine different restaurants – unless you don’t expect it to be positive, of course. 

It’s not just Madras Flavours at it, though: I’ve heard good things about a place called Maverick Burger which definitely has no physical premises under that name. Deliveroo says it operates from Gun Street, so is it Bluegrass BBQ by another name, or Smash trying to keep busy in lockdown? To complicate things further, if you put “Maverick Burger Reading” into Google, it seems to think it’s another name for 7Bone, which makes no sense at all. Another restaurant, called Coco Di Mama, sells pots of pasta and garlic bread. That might tempt you – but would you order from it I told you that it was just Zizzi under another name?

It’s not a phenomenon unique to Deliveroo, either – you can order Japanese food on JustEat from Oishi, down the Oxford Road. Or you can go on the same app and order the same food from Taberu Express, from the same address. Oishi was originally meant to be a second branch of Taberu, the excellent Japanese restaurant on Oxford’s Cowley Road. Why use the name for some, but not all, of Oishi’s deliveries? The mind boggles. And Uber Eats isn’t immune to this either. It has fourteen different Indian restaurants operating out of – yes, you’ve guessed – a single site on Kings Road.

What is unique to Deliveroo, however, is Deliveroo Editions. This is an arrangement where businesses can rent kitchen space from Deliveroo, and use their delivery capability, while offering whatever menu they like. Deliveroo bill these as a way for restaurants to test the water in a particular area without having to shell out considerable startup costs, and Reading is one of only a handful of locations outside London to have Deliveroo Editions.

The most notable restaurants using Deliveroo Editions in Reading are well-known chains largely based in London – Shake Shack, Rosa’s Thai, Chillango, The Athenian and Burger & Lobster. There’s another restaurant doing lobster rolls under the name of Smack, but I saw an order from Smack on Instagram recently which turned up in Burger & Lobster packaging: smoke and mirrors again. Beyond that it’s mostly companies selling cheesecake and ice cream (perhaps they’re another example of the same company operating under two different names: you hardly need to rent a kitchen to sell Ben & Jerry’s). 

The proverbial sore thumb is the subject of this week’s review, the clumsily named VIP Very Italian Pizza. It only has two branches, both in the Brighton area, although their website says their story goes back to Naples in 1845, and that all their ingredients come from their farm there. I couldn’t find out much more about them from my research; there are restaurants with the same name in Rome and Monaco, though I don’t know if they’re linked, and a chain called Very Italian Pizza in the Netherlands, which I assume is a completely separate business. 

Even so, it struck me as an interesting step to take. The pandemic hits, your restaurants struggle to trade and you decide to strike out across the country without a reputation or a brand name to make it easier. You have to admit, that’s a bold move, and it does suggest a certain degree of confidence in their food. It reminded me a little bit, in fact, of the pluckiness of Clay’s when they bought their vacuum-packing and blast-chilling equipment and decided, from a little restaurant on London Street, to try and conquer the world.

Anyway, I’m not reviewing VIP Very Italian Pizza this week because of their backstory, or because they’re my first experience of Deliveroo Editions. I’m reviewing them for the best reason of all, because somebody told me that they were good.  After my disappointing meal at Firezza a couple of months back, one of my readers, Daniel, told me I should have tried VIP Very Italian Pizza (I’ll just call them VIP from now on: typing all that out would grate across a whole review). “They’re real, they are surprisingly fantastic and very authentic” he said. Daniel’s family are Italian and he knows his food, so following up on this one was a no-brainer. 

VIP’s menu is slimmed down from the one they offer in their Brighton restaurants, but still involves an almost bewildering range of pizzas. That does make sense, given that they’re all variations on a theme, but do expect to do a lot of scrolling and narrowing down before you settle on one. They range from eight to fifteen pounds, although you also have the option to build your own. Alternatively, you can order a panuozzo, a giant woodfired sourdough sandwich: I made a mental note to try one of those next time. There is a small range of starters, too, along with a charcuterie selection for one or two people, a handful of pasta and salad dishes and a few tempting desserts. 

The other thing worth mentioning is that VIP’s menu also has a deli section, so along with your dinner you can pick up some Italian biscuits, some mozzarella or any of the charcuterie used on the pizzas. I really liked this touch and, again, it suggested pride in their ingredients: lots of restaurants talk about this, but they don’t always put their money where their mouths are in this way. I ordered a couple of pizzas, a selection of charcuterie and a couple of desserts, which came to forty-eight pounds, not including tip.

Deliveroo Editions’ kitchen isn’t far from the Moderation, ideally suited to serve both the town centre and Caversham, and my delivery experience was fuss and complication free. I ordered at five past seven, my order was on its way twenty minutes later and within half an hour of ordering a black cab was at my door with the food. Everything was in recyclable cardboard, and their packaging also tells you a bit about their ingredients and sourdough base – a nice touch.

In normal times – in a restaurant, people watching, with a cold beer on the go – I’d have had my charcuterie selection first and my pizza second. I do miss those times. Instead, we went for the pizzas first, reasoning that they would go cold and the charcuterie wouldn’t. I had picked probably my favourite pizza, thinking it would make a good benchmark – a Napoletana, which happens to include olives, capers, anchovies and chilli, many of my favourite things. I’m not sure whether things had moved around in transit, but my pizza had a strange bald spot in the middle and, on further investigation, one corner of the thing was completely devoid of olives, capers or anchovies. Never mind – pizza goes cold so quickly, and at least I knew which bit to eat last.

Having got that whinge out of the way, it really was delicious stuff. It wasn’t stingy with olives and capers the way, say, a Franco Manca pizza would be, and all of the ingredients were really good quality. The intense saltiness of the anchovies, the almost fragrant plump purple olives and the acetic tang of the capers added up to something wonderful: I’ve always thought that this was the pizza for people who love salt and vinegar. 

But more than that, the tomato base was beautifully done, the cheese was top-notch and the base, nicely spotted around the rim, held up superbly.   Zoë’s pizza, the Fiocco di Neve (it translates as snowflake) was every bit as good. It was a simple combination of flavours – sweet thin slivers of onion, salty, punchy gorgonzola and nuggets of coarse, tasty sausagemeat. Sometimes less is more, and this was a good example of that – and the toppings felt generous although, again, the photo suggests there might have been a bit of drift in transit going on in the back of that black cab. VIP’s menu also has a pizza bianca on it which is just fior di latte, potato and sausage, and I can well imagine trying that next time.

We’d also ordered a charcuterie selection for one, and although it didn’t really go after we’d finished the pizza (especially as we’d started to fill up by then) it was still a useful way of checking out the rest of VIP’s produce. It came with some decent toasted sourdough – which would have been even better if we’d eaten it hot, I imagine – and a few bocconcini, but the feature attraction was the meat.  You got a little taster of all the different cured meats they use on their pizzas, all of which you can also buy from the deli to eat at home. 

These broadly fell into three different categories. First, “not bad”: this included the Parma ham and bresaola, both good but unremarkable, a fine Milano salami and a coppa that needed a little more fat and marbling. Second, “really not bad”. This category was comprised of a thoroughly decent coarse speck, some excellent spiniata, a coarse Napoli salami and, my pick of the bunch, some beautiful pancetta with herbal notes and smoky fat almost like lardo. The third category was the mortadella, which I left: I’ve tried it in Bologna and my understanding is that if you don’t like it there, you probably won’t like it anywhere. 

My excuse is that I was saving myself for dessert. I’ve never had a cannolo, and I’ve heard friends rave about them on holidays in Sicily. I can’t tell you whether VIP’s version was authentic or not, but it didn’t quite hit the spot for me – I was hoping the rolled tube of dough would be airier, crisper and bit less like cardboard, and the ricotta inside a little lighter, fresher and more speckled with chocolate chips. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, just that I expected even more – but perhaps it’s unfair to compare this with the snaffling the real deal in a café in Noto.

It’s fairer, perhaps, to compare it with Zoë’s choice of dessert, which came out on top. Scialatelli alla Nutella consisted of fried, sugared strips of pizza dough liberally covered in Nutella. I imagine that sentence either made you hungry or left you cold, but for what it’s worth I loved this dish. It had next to no nutritional value and, like so many things with next to no nutritional value, it was extremely good for the soul. Even lukewarm, having cooled down while we waded through our pizza and charcuterie, it was a superb dessert, like an Italian take on churros with the saturation cranked up. I was allowed to try some, and it made me sad that I hadn’t ordered it while secretly relieved that I had dodged quite that many calories. Zoë didn’t want any of my cannolo in return, which suggests I sold it to her roughly as well as I’ve sold it to you.

So, all in all a very enjoyable meal – Daniel’s summary of “surprisingly fantastic” is both accurate and exceptionally concise. And yet I still felt conflicted at the end of it, because a part of me felt like I’d done the dirty on Papa Gee to have a one night stand with VIP – new in town but, potentially, with no intention of putting down roots. This is where it starts to get complicated to be a consumer, especially a consumer with an interest in building a community. Was I helping a very good pizza restaurant to try Reading out in the hope that they might open a branch here, or was I supporting Brighton’s local economy when I should be helping our local hero on Prospect Street? Was I part of the solution, or part of the problem?

I imagine everybody will have a different answer to that. To some people it won’t even be a question: they just want the best pizza, or the cheapest, or to buy from whoever has a deal on that day. And to some people it’s unthinkable heresy to order from an outsider, or from Deliveroo Editions, or even from Deliveroo in general. I understand all of that, or at least I like to think I do. Modern life is rife with difficult choices. Sometimes choice is a luxury we don’t really need and sometimes – if, for instance, you want to buy some vegetarian dosa from a restaurant on Kings Road – it’s just an illusion. 

I still tend to think of delivery apps in general as a necessary evil, and I don’t know what I make of Deliveroo Editions as a concept, but I came away from my meal with a certain respect for VIP. Even if their stay in Reading is a fleeting one, I wish them every success with it and I think their pizza is pretty damn good. But I’ll make sure I order a takeaway from Papa Gee in the not too distant future – from Deliveroo, again, regrettably – if only by way of penance. It turns out that they do versions of both of the desserts I tried from VIP, so maybe they’ll stop me daydreaming about that pizza dough, slathered in Nutella. Perhaps you have your cannolo and eat it, after all.

VIP Very Italian Pizza

https://deliveroo.co.uk/menu/reading/reading-editions/vip-very-italian-pizza-editions-rea
Order via: Deliveroo only

Takeaway review: Rizouq

I don’t think I realised, back in January when I started reviewing takeaways, just how it could widen the scope of my blog. Initially, I focused on reviewing restaurants that had opened since we all went into our first lockdown a year ago, which is why I’ve looked into the likes of Banarasi Kitchen, La’De Kitchen and O Português. But now that I’ve been doing this for a few months, and the number of shiny new restaurants on my to do list begins to diminish, I can see that reviewing meals at home opens up all sorts of establishments that I simply couldn’t review before. 

Some are places that don’t have physical premises here like Rosa’s Thai or Burger & Lobster, London restaurants testing the water by running dark kitchens in Reading and partnering with Deliveroo. Others are chefs who deliver in a specific area – these can often be hyperlocal and specialised, like Caversham’s Pielicious or West Berkshire’s The Iberian (which sadly doesn’t deliver to my address: I’ve already checked).

Then of course there are heat at home options offered by established, high profile restaurants – frequently more expensive but aiming to offer a restaurant experience in the comfort of your own home. The most famous of these, locally, is of course our very own Clay’s, but plenty of well-known restaurants offer something like this, for now at least, either through their own website or via a third party like Dishpatch (a company surely named by a Sean Connery fan). 

Whether restaurants continue to offer heat at home options beyond April or May is a fascinating question, and one I suspect many restaurants are wrestling with right now. Is it a useful additional revenue stream, or an exhausting side hustle that will be dropped when restaurants can open again? Most likely nobody really knows the answer to that, just as nobody knows what the shape of hospitality, our social lives, the world of work and, more broadly, life itself will be like over the rest of this year and beyond. 

Will we still want to eat out, or will we just be delighted that the quality of TV dinners has improved a thousandfold? Will we still want to go to pubs in large groups only to get stuck in a conversation with that person who bangs on non-stop about their job, or your one friend who never buys a round, or will we decide we’d just rather stay home drinking better beer, wine and spirits in our comfies?

Your guess is as good as mine. But either way, the overwhelming feedback from readers of the blog has been that you don’t want takeaway reviews to come to an end next Friday, so it may well be that you see more of these kinds of meals in the weeks ahead. And, as always, if there’s somewhere you’re particularly interested in (or somewhere you especially recommend) you should let me know.

The other type of restaurants I can review now that I couldn’t back at the start of 2020 are those that are almost exclusively takeaway. Firezza, which I sampled in January, falls into this category and so, pretty much, does Rizouq, the subject of this week’s review. 

Rizouq bill themselves as a family-run Pakistani takeaway, and pre-Covid their site on the Wokingham Road had the grand total of one table in the window: you could technically eat in, it implied, but nobody did. One table is almost as discouraging as no tables at all, I tend to think, with the notable exception of Harput Kebab, just round the corner from the Nag’s Head. There’s a certain magic, if you ask me, about sitting next to a fogged up window, a warm glow behind you, Edward Hopperesque on the Oxford Road, half-cut and devouring a chicken shish.

Rizouq has been on my radar for the best part of four years, though, because of my regular reader Mansoor (last seen tipping me off about La’De Kitchen). He’s been telling me for as long as I can remember that I needed to give Rizouq a try and even gave me a list of the best dishes to try. “The chicken samosa is up there with the chilli paneer from Bhel Puri for loveliness”, he told me once. On another occasion he said that I should try the snacks in general and the shami kebab in particular (“we have a regular order of frozen shami kebabs for quick meals during the week”). 

More recently, he told me to try the curries and the chicken tikka sizzler (“that’s my wife’s favourite”, he said), and I thought that I’d gone quite long enough without taking Mansoor’s expert advice. So I went back through his Tweets to me, I made notes and, on Wednesday night, I sat down with my phone to put as many of Mansoor’s recommendations as I could into action. 

This turned out to be trickier than I expected, and I’m afraid it means you now have to sit through some of the dullest paragraphs I’ve written in a long time – dull but sadly, probably necessary. So here goes: I managed to find Rizouq on Deliveroo and Uber Eats. Most of the dishes are nearly a pound cheaper on Uber Eats, and the delivery charge is a pound less too, so if you’ve had good experiences with them then knock yourself out. I am not using Uber Eats, because they’re shite, so I stuck to Deliveroo. 

However, while researching this review I found that Rizouq are also on JustEat – on desktop but not, it seems, on the app. Go figure. The dishes are cheaper on JustEat than on Deliveroo, too. And, it turns out, you can also order on Rizouq’s website, although the website isn’t easy to find – it’s fairly low down in the Google search results. It is listed on Rizouq’s Facebook page, but if you try and access it that way it’s blocked because it apparently goes against Facebook’s community standards. Given all the offensive dross Facebook refuses to take down, all the hatemongering and anti-vaxxing, that’s even more baffling. 

What’s also baffling – sorry, we’re not done yet – is that the menu is subtly different across all of the platforms. I’m boring myself writing this, but in for a penny, in for a pound: if you order via JustEat, for example, you have a choice of a “vegetable curry” or a “non-vegetable curry”. If you order on Deliveroo you can choose lentil, vegetable, chicken or lamb curry. And if you order on Rizouq’s website they have five different curries, which come in two different sizes. Confused? Me too. So if Rizouq is a well-kept secret, it might be because they make it more complicated than it needs to be. Just a thought.

For those of you who are still awake, the menu is so wide that you could easily struggle to work out what to order if you didn’t have a sherpa like Mansoor to guide you. It covers a lot of bases, so there are starters and snacks, curries and biryani (I think the biryani used to be a weekend only thing, but it seems they now sell it every day). But there are also burgers and wraps, many of which feel much more conventional in nature. So a seekh kebab wrap sits alongside a Southern fried chicken wrap, a tikka sizzler burger is in the same section as a minted lamb burger. There are samosas, but also mozzarella sticks and garlic mushrooms. It’s clearly a modern menu designed to cover all bases in the community it serves, with a few adjustments made for that purpose – no beefburgers, turkey bacon instead of regular bacon and so on. 

Even at Deliveroo prices, nearly everything is either reasonably priced or plain cheap. You’ll struggle to find a dish costing over ten pounds, starters are all less than a fiver and the burgers range between five and eight pounds. We ordered two starters and two mains with sides and our meal came to thirty pounds, not including tip. Everything was very efficient, too. We placed our order at six o’clock, and half an hour later our rider was on his way. He got to us in less than five minutes – an impressive feat – so in next to no time we were taking everything out of the carrier bag and dishing it up. It came in a mixture of recyclable plastic and foil and more problematic polystyrene, but everything was perfectly hot.

Mansoor’s tip about Rizouq’s starters was a good one, as these were definitely the best things I ate. You got three chicken samosas, each one bigger than my hand, for four pounds fifty (or even less if you order through someone else) and they were magnificent things. The pastry was maybe harder, oilier and more brittle than it is at Cake&Cream up the road, but the filling was beautiful – nothing but shredded chicken, potato, spice and a slowly building heat. I loved these, although I have failed to sum them up as succinctly as my other half Zoë. “It’s fried, it’s fresh as fuck and it’s full of meat” she said. All the Fs. “What’s not to like?”

I also loved the shami kebab. I wouldn’t have ordered this without the recommendation from Mansoor – I’d have been far more likely to stay in my comfort zone and have seekh kebab instead – but these were a real revelation, fiery yet comforting patties with shedloads of strands of mutton. I expected them to keep their shape a little better and have a bit of a crust, but in reality they were so soft they fell apart dishing them up from their foil container. Whether they’re meant to be quite that soft is for someone better informed to say, but the taste was so good that I really couldn’t have cared less. Again, all this just cost four pounds fifty.

If the mains were less successful, it’s possibly because the snacks had set a high standard. My chicken tikka sizzler was perfectly enjoyable but a little unremarkable – a nicely spiced fillet in the sort of soft floury bap you don’t see too often these days, with some mayo and iceberg lettuce. That was it: done pretty well, but on the basic side. I think I’ve been ruined by the Lyndhurst’s katsu chicken burger, the size of which made Rizouq’s burger look a bit anaemic by comparison. On the other hand, Rizouq’s costs five pounds fifty. 

I don’t know why I thought having a side of hash browns was a good idea, but I did anyway. They were shop-bought and perfectly enjoyable, if a little limp and floppy. Next time I’ll have fries or, most likely, order something different, although I still polished them off with my new gastronomic obsession, Johnny Hot Stuff’s “Hot Date” sauce, picked up from Geo Café. It was only after the meal that I realised I’d neglected to take a picture of my main but trust me – even if I had, I don’t think it would have sent you running to order one.

Zoë had gone for the daily lamb curry which was in a relatively dry sauce and served on the bone. She really enjoyed it, despite usually being a little suspicious of meat on the bone. I wasn’t quite so sure – the meat I tried was delicious and tender, but with rice thrown in this dish came to eleven pounds, and I couldn’t help thinking that better options were available, from Banarasi Kitchen, from Clay’s or from Kobeeda Palace. That’s the curse of reviewing, as I said to someone on Twitter recently: you are always comparing, whether you’re comparing to your expectations, to your hopes, or to a similar dish you’ve tried elsewhere.

So, that’s Rizouq: a menu, hidden in a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, strewn across four different websites. But if you look beyond that, it happens to be a great example of a restaurant that knows exactly what it wants to be, understands its customer base and serves it admirably. Mansoor aside, I expect a fair amount of ER readers either haven’t heard of Rizouq or wouldn’t consider giving it a try. Did my meal put it on my radar, and would I recommend it to you? 

It’s a cautious yes from me on that score. I do think that the experience – the menus and the myriad of delivery options – is needlessly confusing, but at the core of it, when you strip away the distraction, there’s a good, authentic and crazily reasonably priced menu in there waiting to be discovered. When I go back, which I definitely will, it will be to try more of the snacks, and maybe a seekh kebab wrap, or I’ll have a crack at Rizouq’s biryani to see how it compares. 

Or, better still, perhaps I’ll follow up on another recommendation from my insider. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Rizouq offers a desi breakfast, and looking at the menu, I can just imagine myself tucking into a Lahori chickpea curry, spiced potatoes, halwa and buttery puri. Mansoor speaks very highly of it, and that’s good enough for me. After all, he hasn’t steered me wrong so far.

Rizouq
117 Wokingham Road, Reading, RG6 1LH
0118 9668899

https://rizouqtakeaway.co.uk/order-now
Order via: Rizouq’s website, Deliveroo, JustEat or Uber Eats