Dough Hands, Cambridge Heath Road, food review: ‘An interesting player in a crowded game’

‘I didn’t share, I just gobbled’: A pizza from Dough Hands. Photograph: courtesy Dough Hands

Is there any greater experience than the smell, taste, and radiating warmth of fresh dough?

If it’s made by a restauranteur’s very own dexterous hands in an unusually decorated pub just down the road from Bethnal Green station, more’s the better.

Hannah Drye has popped up all over the city after starting up in Brixton market during the great national distancing.

Starting her pie (pizza in Dough Hands land) journey working in Pizzaface in Brighton, she’s now snagged herself a permanent home at The Three Colts, Exale Brewery’s new venue, from Monday to Saturday.

Imagine if you will a vaulted industrial cavern, looking a little like a working men’s club, brought rather rapidly into the modern world.

Gargantuan cacti stretch out in one window and shuffleboard clacks away in a backroom.

An impressive built-in wooden bar, added greenery, warm downlights, and pictures do their best to soften the edges of the concrete brutalist shell beneath.

With it being August, the cool kids are outside, drinking, playing cards, smoking, and demanding sustenance. Look London, dough hands (sorry, I had to).

Now this is pizza, on pizza, on pizza. Neo-Neapolitan (whatever that means) – here, dough is queen.

The sides are garlic bread or deep-fried dough. There are dips, an emerald-hued caper variety which is a novelty for this jaded reviewer, and garlic mayo in the expected soft orange colour.

Then there’s the discs we know and love, no dessert, no chips, only olives, and pizza. Keeping it simple.

Sauce of pride: Dough Hands has both experimental and safe combos on offer. Photograph: courtesy Dough Hands

This is a brave choice, most likely borne out of necessity. Trouble brews, however, when due to lateness on our part (apologies and grovelling followed), a rush meant that there was a shortage of dough. Almost no hands, you could say.

I love the idea of a rush on dough, like a rush on the pound but spongier and more fragrant.

But a menu completely based on one ingredient and with only two chefs, the flaw in the plan is almost (personally) disastrous. Our neighbours outside look like they might eat their playing cards in frustration.

The get-it-until-its-gone mentality might work in a food truck setting, but rather falters in a residency.

Two domes are saved for this most grateful reviewer, and the earlier stampede is partly understood.

The Wildhands (special pie) is a slice of divinity. It’s speckled with roasted and pickled fennel, wild boar salami that gives it an earthy funk, creamy pecorino, and splashes of bright red San Marzano tomatoes. I didn’t share, I just gobbled.

There is also the classic Margherita, the Shroomy, or an even simpler Tomato Pie for you of little bravery.

But for the bolder sort, there are things that could be called experimental. Jode has the addition of Dr. Strings hot honey, and The Flaming Moe (a nickname I will be stealing) has Calabrian chilli, artichoke, and aged mozzarella. Complex, no? There are pickles, confit tomato, whipped ricotta, mortadella, nduja, and egg yolk, proving without a shred of doubt that we are far away from the chain end of the city’s pizza-Kinsey-scale. These are high-quality seasonal ingredients paired in surprising and toothsome ways. This is an interesting player in an admittedly crowded game.

Yet with experimentation, there are always casualties. Puttanesca (Italian for ‘lady of the night’) is a salty risk. Capers, anchovies, salsa verde, and mozzarella combine for a brackish effect that isn’t particularly pleasurable.

As we pick at our can of swollen nocellara olives, both Hannah and her culinary partner look rather rushed. Simple things like cutlery (optional) and napkins (a necessity) are forgotten.

Dough Hands is ideal if you want a steaming hot, fairly priced, freshly made circle crafted by someone who has a passion for the Italian classic. The space is a fresh and welcome addition to East London’s pub scene.

Grab a Tzatziki IPA (containing lactose, which makes sense, kind of) and natter the evening away.

But get there when the dough is out and Hannah is on her metaphorical bike, and no amount of love nor money will get you a pizza.