Simon Stanley gets acquainted with a unique pizza recipe at this casual cafe-diner. Photos by Vinh Dao.
We’ve got Chicago-style, we’ve got Neapolitan, we’ve got New York slices and we’ve got Dominoes, but Oliver’s Pizza, a compact eatery in a snug alleyway close to Dien Bien Phu, is pitching a whole new ball game when it comes to pizza in Saigon. For starters, the pies here aren’t even round.
Having originated in the Italian capital, Romana pizzas are typically rectangular in shape and consist of a medium-thick dough that has been matured for between 24 and 72 hours at temperatures just above freezing, giving it a hearty yet light and aerated finish, with richer, fuller flavours. Without getting too scientific, it’s also more digestible.
“Eighty percent of the success of this pizza is in the bread,” says founder Olivier Fichera, “the rest is in the quality of the toppings.” And yes, his real name is Olivier. “Oliver is easier for people to pronounce,” he adds.
Born in the South of France to Sicilian parents, Fichera opened his (almost) namesake restaurant in June 2016 having learnt the secrets of this time consuming dough recipe from an old pizza master. His approach was to create a space that was midway between a coffee shop and a restaurant, offering a quick turnaround for those who want to ‘grab and go’, and a cosy, comfortable environment for those who want to hang around. And he has hit it just right.
Oliver’s semi-baked pizzas are sliced and lined up in a super-chilled cabinet ready to be heated to order in a matter of minutes. Romana dough, says Fichera, is particularly well suited to this approach: that one last blast of heat acting as the final finishing touch in the flavour-building process. It’s a secret they’ve known in Italy for decades. “In Rome you have many small shops selling pizza like this by the slice,” he says.
A favourite with many of Oliver’s regulars is the Vantricina (VND50,000 per slice), topped with mozzarella, parsley, and a generous layer of spicy Italian salami. Pair that with a glass (or carafe) of carefully selected house red (VND60,000) and life doesn’t get much better. As their slogan goes, these really are ‘slices of happiness’.
The crust, of course, is quite special. For the toppings, Fichera make sure that each is of the highest quality. Even the deceptively simple Margherita (VND40,000) soars above some of the more complex combinations being thrown together elsewhere.
The other styles on offer are nicely varied, from the tuna-topped Del Mare (VND45,000), or the mushroom-packed Funghi (VND45,000), to the cured ham and rocket Coppa (VND55,000). For big groups, parties or corporate events, whole and half trays can also be purchased. The choice of made-to-order salads is a nice touch too, starting at VND30,000 and rising to VND110,000 for the decadent Romana, a traditional accompaniment that’s big enough to share between two.
In addition to red, white and rosé wines, there’s also beers and some seriously good Italian coffee, so whether you want a quick bite or a long, leisurely evening of grazing, Oliver’s should do the trick. Feeling lazy? They even deliver. Just drop them a line on WhatsApp or visit Vietnammm or MarketOi.