"In pizza we trust," reads the pink neon sign inside the celebrated restaurant Seu Pizza Illuminati in Rome, Italy.
That belief in the pie's global appeal and enduring quality to surprise and tantalise also permeates the brand’s international outpost at Bulgari Resort Dubai.
As part of the collaboration with the stylish Jumeirah Bay Island hotel, Seu Pizza Illuminati offers select high-end pizzas from its Rome menu at the resort’s marina-side restaurant Il Cafe.
The partnership is a success, with the brand clinching the number one spot on the Dubai list of 50TopPizza's awards last year. It is an online guide run by inspectors in Italy.
The local distinction joins a number of prestigious international awards Seu Pizza Illuminati has amassed over the years, including a rare 3 Slices from influential Italian dining guide Guida Pizzerie d’Italia Gambero Rosso in 2020, as well as a number eight ranking in the World 50 Top Pizza list in 2019.
Behind the success is chef and co-founder Pier Daniele Seu.
Dubbed "the don of Rome's pizza scene", the Italian has a cult following from diners to fellow pizzaiolos (pizza makers to the uninitiated) for his painstaking and innovative approach to Neapolitan pizzas. Such methods, including a temperature-controlled 30-hour leavening period for the dough, require Seu to travel to Dubai regularly for quality-control checks and to refresh the menu with seasonal produce.
"I am not trying to break away from tradition," Seu tells The National. "While a lot of things have been said about pizza, there is still some scope to add something new to the conversation.
“I want to expand people's perceptions of pizza and I can do that by constantly offering new seasonal pizzas and, perhaps, even creating those I feel people would enjoy before they know it."
New pizzas on the menu
Starting Friday, Il Cafe’s menu will offer six new pizzas that double as comfort food in cooler temperatures, in addition to the lavish touches befitting the exclusivity of the Bulgari Resort Dubai.
"Paying attention to the quality of ingredients is in our philosophy," Seu says. "While in the UAE it is a little different because the seasons don't change as drastically as in Europe, we do strive to showcase in the pizzas the seasonality we are in."
Half of the new dishes are vegetarian, and the menu also illustrates some of Seu’s daring ingredient combinations that both thrilled and shocked pizza lovers in Rome.
The Rosso Di Mazara (Dh270), for example, has stracciatella cheese, red prawns tartare and pistachio squid ink. The presentation is elegant and vibrant with all six slices of the medium-sized dish featuring a prawn on top of glistening creamy cheese.
Each bite is impactful with the plain dough sturdy enough to carry all the ingredients. It tastes fresh, zesty and can function as a lovely to-share starter.
"In Rome, we really made an impression with our seafood pizzas as that is not very traditional. Some people were suspicious of what we were doing, but we showed we can break that barrier if we focus on the quality and the flavour," Seu says.
"With seafood pizzas, you add the toppings immediately after the dough comes out of the oven to ensure it comes as fresh as it can be to the diners. Therefore, it requires longer preparation, but the results are worth it."
The Parmigiana pizza (Dh150) — with its namesake sharp and nutty-flavoured cheese, plus smoked provola cheese, tomato sauce and basil — is not only a vegetarian delight but also partly responsible for bringing Seu Pizza Illuminati to Dubai in the first place.
"A person from Bulgari who looks after the hotels is vegetarian and he would come to eat at our restaurant because of our selections," he says. "It was from there that a conversation began to come to Dubai.
“We always had this vision of giving pizza an international dimension that can overcome tradition and culture. We wanted no restrictions in how we make pizza, which in Italy you do have."
The Italiana (Dh170) bulges with quality produce. The sharpness of the veal ham is offset by the milky textures of fior di latte — a soft and lightly flavoured cheese akin to mozzarella. The dollops of tomato confit are rich but not powering, while the basil adds an earthy aroma.
"Like every language, making pizza follows a certain set of codes. For example, you have tomatoes, mozzarella and a wooden oven. But within that framework, you can be creative and try new things," Seu says.
"I want pizza to speak to a modern language while respecting its tradition."
Back for more
That experimentation means the extension of a menu favourite, and the last pizza The National sampled on our visit.
Since its arrival as part of Il Cafe’s menu updates earlier in the year, the Seuwarma (Dh150) has been a hit. While the idea of chicken shawarma-flavoured pizza is not exactly new, Seu elevates it with subtle touches and fresh produce.
Once again, the crisp and soft dough is baked to perfection. The marinated chicken, fior di latte and lemon zest make for a potent combination of flavour and texture, while the lettuce and streaks of garlic sauce make the pie pop visually and on the taste buds.
“A lot of diplomats from the Gulf come to have this,” Seu says. “They say it reminds them of home and, for a chef, that is a beautiful emotion to give with food.”