Thursday, May 13, 2010

Meeting Extreme Pizza's Philip Martin

A few weeks ago, Rebecca and myself had lunch in Rathmines’ newest restaurant, Extreme Pizza. Any of you who are following Consumed will remember that I was excited about finally trying out the menu I’d read so much about prior, but ultimately left disappointed with what had been served up. There’s no need to elaborate, the pizza we ate on that day just didn’t live up to our expectations. I wrote up a review summing up as much, and that was effective the end of that for all intents and purposes.

Unbeknownst to myself, it would take Philip Martin – owner of Extreme Pizza and effective master of the franchise on this side of the Atlantic – only a couple of days to come across my review and get in touch with me regarding it. How he did so is still a mystery to me, but there’s a big online campaign behind this particular restaurant (with Philip himself at the helm) so it may well have been brought to his attention through Extreme Pizza’s growing fan base. Regardless, he not only took any criticisms I had on board but was also kind enough to invite me for a chat about the food itself, to see where I thought the problem lay. A week or so later and there I was, back in Extreme Pizza much earlier than I’d intended to be!

And on that small note, let me give you a little insight into my philosophy on bad dining experiences. We all have them, whether or not it’s to do with service, the restaurant itself or a simple matter of the food on offer not appealing to your tastes. They happen, and in many cases we all immediately decide never go back to X, Y or Z eatery again after only a handful of hiccups on their part. Personally, I think this attitude is a terrible one to take when it comes to dining out. It’s important to remember that most restaurants are extremely dynamic places; service, atmosphere and the food are almost never the same on any given day or at any given hour and what you eat is, of course, a mere fraction of the entire menu. If you thought one single item from said menu was sub-par, it’s entirely reasonable to imagine that it may just have been an off day where the cook and that particular dish are concerned. We are, after all, only human and this applies to everybody who is working an ever worked in a restaurant. To expect comparatively consistent perfection – even proportionately – is a fool’s errand. To complain with conviction when you don't get it is even worse. Instead, expect the best that can be done and, as you should do in general throughout life, throw in a bit of empathy for good measure. In a nutshell, don’t rule out giving restaurants a second chance if one or two things go wrong! I never do, and Extreme Pizza was no exception to this. The only difference here was that instead of going of my own volition, Philip was inviting me back personally.

Of course, I wasn’t visiting for a meal this time. No, what had been arranged instead was a sampling plate of select ingredients from the pizzas Rebecca and I had ordered the last time and a half n’ half pizza from the menu. Philip and myself talked about food and the business, I tried the ingredients and gave what I thought was the advice best suited to the problems I’d experienced with the previous two pizzas. The main issue beforehand had been the thickness of the base which ended up dominating the pizza, however this time around I was introduced to Extreme Pizza’s wholemeal base; more flavoursome yet considerably thinner without pushing into Neapolitan thickness territory. It yielded space for the flavours of the pizza toppings themselves to shine, and altogether worked far better than the plain version we’d eaten the last time.

As for the ingredient platter, it raised more questions for me about how the cooking process affected good tasting, fresh ingredients. Philip takes pride in how he sources those that go into his pizzas, with a meticulous selection process going into each one. He sources the salami himself, with two varieties currently on offer. The tomato sauce used in some of the pizza recipes tasted fantastic, and I pointed out that Rebecca’s pizza had suffered from a lack of it. Other customers had done the same, but Philip puts this down to a matter of taste at the end of the day; some like more sauce, some don’t. I’d still say that more could definitely be used, if only in tandem with the normal base.

What was also brought to my attention that hadn’t been during our last visit was Philip’s enthusiasm for micro breweries; small beer and ale producing companies a that, in general, create a much more refined drink than what you’d get from the bigger multi-nationals. They feature heavily on Extreme Pizza’s chalk board, with Curim in particular standing out as one I recognised. It’s great to see serious, positive backing to local companies like this, especially from restaurants that you wouldn’t normally expect to provide it! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to push my luck enough to get a sample, but when I do go back I most definitely will.

Yes, if I hadn’t already made it clear then let me make it even clearer: I will indeed soon be returning to Extreme Pizza for another meal. Under normal circumstances I’d definitely have been a little slower to, but here we have a restaurant that’s run by somebody with a genuine passion for what he does; enough to see my and Rebecca’s negative dining experience not an irreversible disaster, but rather an opportunity to make amends and show off what he can offer instead. That alone is reason enough to bump it up into second chance salon, never mind that what I tried when meeting him tasted much better! Even if, somehow, the food still then isn’t my cup of tea for round two, I still have great respect for what Philip showed me in how he approaches running a restaurant. Any up and coming catering enthusiasts would be hard pressed to find a better role model. And if you happen to be just plain interested in a chat about pizza, he’s got you covered there too!


  1. One comment to make on this:
    'To expect comparatively consistent perfection – even proportionately – is a fool’s errand.'

    In your article on this restaurant did you not say that the place had little or no other customers to serve in it at the time? I think when it comes to food that the above quote is a weak excuse when it comes to the standard of food. Many a time i've been in packed deli's, restaurants etc. and the quality of the food has never come under question.
    At the end of the day you're buying a product and if it's not satisfactory then you are within your rights to be unhappy - not a 'prick' as you said. If you're in the business of writing reviews sometimes one needs to be callous and honest. Yes people can have 'off days' but if it means you have to pick through a meal then maybe this owner needs to check over his staff.
    Ask yourself this, if you were taking a party to this restaurant would you explain that one needs to have their empathy in check to dine here?
    I really don't think a restaurant should have to make amends...

    Anyway, that's my opinion...

  2. I should clarify since (on second reading) that whole paragraph makes the idea I'm trying to get across sound a bit more vague than it should be. Apologies for that!

    Yes, there were no customers in Extreme Pizza at the time, but I'm not referring to that meal specifically. This was more of an attempt to just sum up my outlook on dining out in general.

    Regarding complaints and criticism, I think I was probably leaning more in the direction of service and trivial things therein as opposed to the food when talking about expectations of consistent perfection. I do of course completely agree that food is the MOST important factor, and if there's something fundamentally wrong with it then you definitely take it up with a manager. But people do often just order the wrong dish for themselves and rule out ever going back to the restaurant in question because they didn't enjoy it, disregarding the entire potential of the remaining dishes and advising everybody else to do so. Others have almost entirely fantastic meal experiences, but let maybe one imperfect course get to them. I've seen it happen in some reviews, they end on an almost melancholy note about improvement whilst a whole raft of positives go begging. One blog in particular selected similar dishes in different restaurants over the course of a few reviews and took each one to the cleaners if they didn't measure up to her favourite, comparative pictures and all! Effectively, she'd had a few 'perfect' dining experiences, and every facet of that particular meal was compared to the others thereafter. If somewhere didn't measure up, it was the same line that began to define what she wrote: 'not as good as X for this, not as good as...', with little comparative credit given where things were done correctly. Unless the negatives outweigh the good points then I see no need to not summarise a restaurant by giving credit where it's due.

    In a nutshell, the 'pricks' are people who have plenty to enjoy, but prefer to spend most of their time complaining about the negatives that may, ultimately, be slight. They certainly aren't anybody who complains for a legitimate reason about fundamental problems with the food, or service.

    And sure at the end of the day, you know me! I'm a positives over negatives kind of guy, so that's just how these things come out when I write. I guess I've grown up watching people (who shall go unnamed) repeatedly get angry over trivial service issues here, there and everywhere, so by now those situations just plain embarrass me. If I have issues that weren't fundamental problems, I can address them here. And will do so!