Heist Bank is so contrary. So wayward.
Single-dish restaurants are still on the rise, London littered with places doing solely toasted cheese or variations on meatballs. Restaurants brag about their six twists on organic porridge or twelve breeds of hot dog. And here comes Heist Bank, the new opening from Urban Leisure Group, going totally contraflow with their craft beer bar that’s also a pizza restaurant, that’s also a gaming den, that’s also a florist.
Within two floors of exposed brickwork Heist Bank has wood-fired pizza, in-house flower shop, a downstairs game room with projector and Nintendo 64, a short list of strong cocktails, a long list of craft beers – and, on a Thursday evening, apparently every person under the age of 45 in a mile radius of Paddington under its roof.
It shouldn’t have surprised us that it’s so busy, but it does. North Wharf Road, caught between a big hospital, a big station and a big dual carriageway, isn’t most people’s first port of call for accessible good-times. But if there’s a common thread running through Urban Leisure Group’s collection of loud, bright bars (like Soho’s Graphic) and neighbourhood pubs (like the Alice House in West Hampstead), it’s that they’re usually packed.
So ULG know how to draw in the punters, and apparently what that takes in Paddington is to balance the line between bar and restaurant. When we claim our pre-booked table at 7pm it’s the last empty one. The bar area, outdoor seating and downstairs gameroom are all packed, the music’s loud and the guys behind the open kitchen counter are already turning out pizzas at full tilt.
We start with cocktails. marking the last day of summer as our ancestors did in times of yore with whisky, dry vermouth and orange bitters. And with a plate of seaweed-and-cider salami, and olive and curd doughnuts: the starter menu at Heist Bank bows to no nation. The doughnuts are something like a small calzone and something like a stuffed dumpling. Their only real doughnut-like quality is that they are great and I want twelve. But settle for three, shared, because you don’t come for dinner at Heist Bank and not order pizza.
I know Italian friends would struggle with this pizza menu. The oven’s a wood-fired one and the dough’s light but unfluffy – in a good way, with a bite to it – but the toppings. The toppings are unorthodox. I imagine Marcello sitting opposite me, looking at his slice of lamb, preserved lemon and feta and saying ‘this is very good, Lydia, but he is not a pizza’.
If it helps Italians in the readership to come to grips with this pizzeria that throws cheese curds and wild oregano into their margherita equivalent, just know: the smoked sausage, fried potato, sage and chili pizza is such a perfect mix of meat, heat and carbs that it’s enough to reconcile me to the existence of white pizza. And the burnt onions, smoked lardo and pecorino pizza is a pizza that I feel our children’s children will look back on our not recognising it formally as a traditional pizza type and will judge us for it.
We don’t order the dessert pizza. Three pizzas between two is a challenge best saved for a sofa rather than an actual restaurant where social niceties dictate you shouldn’t fall asleep. We almost get swayed by the fact the dessert pizza is scattered with chocolate and beernuts. Nuts, soaked in beer, in chocolate, on a pizza. I’d be sceptical that could work, if it weren’t for the way Heist Bank’s already proved so good at glueing together its disparate pieces – the pizzas and flowers and beers and retro gaming and DJs – to such good effect.
Heist Bank, 5, North Wharf Road, W2 1LA. 0207 7238080. Website.