Heading out for dinner on a Thursday evening, I was slightly apprehensive about making my debut as a food critic. While I wasn’t sure if I had a palate refined enough for the task at hand, I managed to convince myself that it might not be as hard as I thought: surely I’d have subconsciously picked up what to do as a committed Masterchef fan, and I’d also consumed more than my fair share of pizza and cocktails over the years.
My friend and I arrive 45 minutes earlier than our reservation, planning to get a drink at the bar before our meal, but we’re taken straight to a table without hesitation despite it being busy for a week night. Jamiroquai’s Space Cowboy is playing at a pleasant volume as we make ourselves comfortable, setting a perfect balance between ‘upbeat’ and ‘chilled’.
The restaurant is dimly lit (but not too dark), and there’s a tree decorated with fairy lights perfectly positioned behind my friend, which makes for some aesthetically pleasing Snapchats over the course of the night. I also have a good view of the neon pink ‘Central’ sign and the wood-fired oven in the open kitchen, which has been painted colourfully to match the decor.
Our waiter asks for our wine preference and a bottle of house white – Ponte’s Giò Bianco – is swiftly brought to the table.
My pescatarian friend opts for the lightly spiced squid with salmoriglio dressing, lemon and rocket (£6) for her starter, while I choose the baby mozzarella balls with cherry tomatoes and basil (£5.50). Both are satisfyingly light, leaving enough room for the 12-inch sourdough pizzas to come.
Having already looked at the menu, I confidently order the Pesto Chicken pizza with goat’s cheese, Fior di Latte cheese, cherry tomatoes and rocket (£12), and my friend goes for the even cheesier Quattro Formaggio (£12). After just two bites, she exclaims, ‘this might just be the best pizza I’ve ever had,’ and I can certainly see why – the base is thin and crisp, there are lashings of tangy San Marzano tomato sauce, and the thick crust is fantastically doughy.
Our side of fries also trumps your regular bowl of chips – Central’s skinny fries (£3.75) are flavoured beautifully with Parmesan, truffle oil and rosemary, and served with aioli and a fresh, spicy tomato dip. For once I feel absolutely no need to ask for bog-standard ketchup (a condiment I usually smother over everything).
We both save three slices of pizza to take home, but it’d be rude to skip dessert. Our plan to sample a range of different options between us goes out of the window, and we order two portions of Nutella chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream, toffee sauce and hazelnuts (£5). The brownie is light, fluffy and not too rich.
Obviously we couldn’t leave here without trying their cocktails, so we make the most of the two-for-one deal and choose the Trip To Auntie Annie’s. This pink drink is made with homemade strawberry bonbon-infused vodka, blood tonic cordial, sugar syrup, lemon juice and a couple of sweets on top for good measure. It’s beyond my wildest dreams, tasting exactly like strawberry bonbons.
With a minimal menu made up mostly of pizza and cocktails (with the odd bowl of pasta and a couple of salads on there too), Central Oven + Shaker are all about quality over quantity.
Central Oven + Shaker
8 Neville Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 5EN
0191 349 9187
What we expected:
An American-style diner with loud music.
What we got:
Authentic Neapolitan pizza and quirky cocktails in a buzzing but laid-back setting.
What we wish we’d tried:
The cheese selection for sharing, with cranberry relish and artisan crackers.