Review – The Hearth
If you had to choose the most unlikely location in Lewes for a great restaurant, it’s probable that the room over the bus station wouldn’t even cross your mind. Yet this is where you’ll find the Hearth Pizzeria. It’s underwhelming from the outside and would be easy to pass without a second glance. But look closer and you’ll spot the Hearth Bakehouse at ground level, where the quality of the freshly-baked bread indicates that the pizza upstairs may actually be the real deal.
The pizzeria itself is a large, airy room straight out of the 1970s, and not in a contrived way. Not much has been added to smarten up what was once a greasy spoon above a bus station, and I love that: scuffed lino floor, lacquered tables, vintage jukebox, green pendant lights and mustard-yellow tiles on the walls.
I’ve been to Italy a number of times and the best pizzas I ate were in rough-and-ready places like this. Pizza is street food, after all, not restaurant food. The chef expertly hand-stretches dough and paddles pizzas into the roaring wood-fired oven, leaving them for little over a minute to bubble up and char, and the heady aroma of wood and bread hits you the moment you walk in. It’s brilliant.
The menu includes 8”/12” pizzas and a couple of calzones (£6.25-£9.95), plus a few pasta dishes, cicchetti (small side dishes) and puds. The pizza is the star of the show though, made from dough which ferments for over 20 hours before baking. It arrives at your table straight from the oven, as it should do, with a crisp base that’s just thin enough without being flimsy, and a chewy, light crust, dotted with huge air bubbles and beautifully spotted with charring – perfect for scooping up a portion of homemade meatballs in tomato sauce.
The Holy Grail – tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella – is gorgeous in its simplicity, though it’s worth noting that the milkiness of this cheese can dampen the base a little. The Napoletana, another holy trinity of anchovies, olives and capers, delivers little hits of salty goodness and completely cured my five-star hangover on a recent visit.
The Dalai Lama – “make me one with everything” – is your wildcard option, where the chef decides what toppings you’ll get. The Pizza al Metro appears very popular with families: half a metre of pizza for £15.95. There are veggie choices a-plenty and even dairy-free cashew cheese, should that be your thing.
The Hearth has hosted a few pop-ups, featuring Kate Henry of Great British Bake-Off fame, and esteemed baker Dan Lepard. On my last visit, I got chatting to the owner, artisan baker Michael Hanson, who wants to hold a mod night here this summer – the place already has an authentically retro feel and I can totally picture Lambrettas lined up outside. Count me in for that one!
I’ve been to the Hearth with a friend for a pre-pub crawl carbfest; I’ve been with my husband and two small kids. I always leave happy. If you ever needed an excuse to get out of Brighton, give them a try.
The Hearth, Eastgate Street, Lewes, BN7 2LP
First published in the Brighton & Hove Independent on 24/03/2015