When Saint’s head chef, Matthew van Niekerk, and his senior chef de partie, Tyler Clayton, arrived in Milan on the doorstep of famous pizzeria Gino Sorbillo, Gennaro Rapido welcomed them with a hug and a kiss. “I was like ‘wow, we just met you, but it’s cool’,” says Clayton, the head pizza wrangler of the duo. At that first meeting, Rapido did little in the way of talking, instead just indicating with his fingers where the men should go.
“He takes a piece of dough and then five seconds later it’s already got sauce on it and then cheese,” Clayton says. “He bakes it and a minute later he puts the Parmesan on at the end, and he takes it to the table.”
“All the while constantly hitting you and pushing you,” van Niekerk says. “He takes up a slice and, is like, cheers with the pizza.” Clayton pauses while he savours the memory. “That first bite was something I had never experienced before: the balance of the tomato with the cheese. That was a really special moment.”
It is this experience that David Higgs and partner Gary Kyriacou wanted to bring to Joburg — by way of an experience they had in New York. After watching Alexander Wang and a bevy of models sipping on champagne and eating pizza, they knew that Joburgers would be hungry for a slice of the action.
“We realised there is a real niche in the market, not even for food specifically — we create a vibe,” Higgs says. “And we want to create a vibe around something like pizza, which is something that everybody eats, and elevate that experience. That’s really what we have done with Saint, in a city that deserves it.”
Like Marble, the décor in Saint is otherworldly and gorgeous: practically anything you eat in Irene Kyriacou’s carefully curated surroundings would be elevated. How could it not be when you have beautiful tapestries, 3D-mapped animation on domed roof, and a giant sculptured relief of Michelangelo’s David’s head and torso behind the bar?
It’s lush to say the least, but my eyes are fixed on the kitchen. Watching Clayton and his team seamlessly put their freshly minted pizza making training into practice as they masterfully turn shaped dough, sauce, and cheese into piping hot pizzas for the hungry Sandton masses is a real treat. But tasting it is even better.
The pizza style that they learnt and serve is classic Neapolitan: equal parts tomato base and buffalo mozzarella, neither one outshining the other, but instead existing in saucy, gooey harmony.
“When you’re eating something that is as simple as a pizza, if it’s not perfect then it’s not going to be nice,” Clayton says. “It’s one of those things in food where the more simple something is, then the harder it is to execute.”
They make the base with flour imported from Naples. As such, it does not stand to attention or keep its stiff shape when lifted. Instead, it softly folds into your hand and melts in the mouth with a perfectly chewy, yet crisp consistency. The two imported golden-domed fire ovens brings a smoked texture to the dough seldom found at the corner store. Whoever doesn’t eat this crust is truly a monster.
“There is this theme of ‘pazzo Italiano’, with a crazy Italian vibe to it,” Higgs says. “But I’m not an Italian chef and nor is anyone in my kitchen. There will be pasta dishes, and there will be pizzas, but it’s going to be different. Sometimes a bit whacky, but always good.” We promise you, it’s very good indeed.
- From the September edition of Wanted magazine.