Never underestimate the power of a decent pizza. Barbarossa is at the centre of the regeneration wrought on Bedford Street,
formerly an under-loved tranche of anonymous, underused shops but now a hub of independent, hipsterish businesses; a ground zero for the city’s gastronomic upheaval. Middlesbrough council took a lot of time balancing the range of restaurants and bars along Bedford Street, with the idea of turning it into a mini-Northern Quarter, a Teesside Williamsburg.
Barbarossa is right in the middle of it. It’s exactly as you’d expect a pizza joint to look these days: exposed brick, tables made of rough-hewn wood, mismatched chairs, girders poking from the walls.
We start with some great chicken skewers, flavoured simply with salt, pepper, rosemary and lemon and with grilled peppers sandwiched between to add some welcome bursts of pliant juiciness. The panko-breaded prawns and their tartly tartare-ish dip were even better, melding crispness and yielding fleshiness tidily.
Then, the pizzas. After spending £15,000 on an oven, you’d hope that the people in charge of it would know how to get the most out of it, and to that end Barbarossa brought in Elia Tavernese, a Sicilian pizzaiolo who ran a pizza school in London, to give the appropriate gravitas. While we couldn’t see him when we visited, he’s clearly trained his chefs very well indeed. As soon as I saw that the leopard-spotted crust which you only get from wood-fired ovens I knew I was in safe hands.
My pizza married Parma ham with rocket and voguish balsamic glaze, which was all very good, but the dough was the star. It had more than enough brio to cut tangily through the mound of toppings and the unexpected but not unwelcome shriek of Stilton which launched itself at me. The tomato sauce could have been a little brighter, a little more eager to draw attention to itself, but that’s a minor point. My eating partner’s ‘nduja pizza – that’s a Calabrian pork pâte made with hot roasted peppers and a rogue apostrophe – was as pleasantly fiery as he’d hoped, too.
The beer selection is bang on the money – the craft beer revolution came relatively late to Boro, but the selection here keeps pace with the scene admirably. First World Problems, a punchy, cloudy, vividly fruity Belgian ale from Edinburgh’s Stewart brewery, tied nicely with the lingering earthiness of the dough and cheese combo which clung to the palate.
It’s a little unfair to compare any pizza to the sainted Cal’s Own of Jesmond – rumour has it that the dough there is so good that the plans for a devolved mayor of the North East got torpedoed by the powers that be because they were worried that the public would vote in one of Cal’s cheese pies – but on its own terms, Barbarossa is well worthy of calling itself an artisanal pizzeria, even if it’s as much a taste of on-trend Leeds or Manchester as of Sicilian authenticity.
Where a lot of places like this take a starkly classicist approach, paring things back to dough, sauce and one cheese, Barbarossa has a more laissez-faire, maximalist attitude which reflects the city nicely – it’s not going out of its way to make anyone feel unworthy or uncomfortable, or force its way of doing things on anyone. It’s more than capable of heading up the Boro food revolution.
13–15 Bedford Street,
Middlesbrough TS1 2LL