In discussing, digesting and dissecting the Malaysian food scene, us Foodgazers take several sweeping statements to stand as self-evident truths. Chief amongst them is the fundamental belief that the average Malaysian establishment will fluctuate erratically in the quality of its food – and in general, trend downwards over time. Which is all to say that sometimes even the best places aren’t great all the time. And we got quite a good reminder of this in our multiple visits to Proof Pizza.
Proof Pizza‘s quality varies wildly. It’s easy to see why. The wood-fire oven has in recent time seen rekindled attention as an object of interest in and of itself (inb4 the reductive attacks on hipsters and their influence), but actually managing to master its intricacies takes a great deal of experience. As far as we can tell, Proof Pizza is still working on building that experience.
Given the many different dining experiences we had, this review takes the form of a mini Choose-Your-Adventure. Pick either ONE, TWO, or THREE, and scroll down to the relevant sections to read them.
The Foodgazer intern checks in with us on a daily basis to alert us to the latest murmurs of the food scene. Proof Pizza, she says, is the real deal. The real deal, we ask? She nods and shows us some posts from Instagrammers. Pretty posts and the usual hyperbole. Put in on the list, I tell her. And get back to commenting on people’s stuff. I’ve already uploaded a new series of template comments.
As luck would have it, less than a week after Proof Pizza’s vaunted oven fires up for business, I find myself in front of their doors. Pizza, I tell the waiter. Hi sir, here’s our menu, he replies. I stroke my chin slowly. Pizza, I say.
The oven looks pretty cool. It’s the centrepiece, more or less, of the very pretty space. That’s one thing all these APW spots have going for them. They all look fantastic! From the paper dragon and puzzlingly drab food of Kaiju to the long-standing pioneer Pulp to 52 Barbers (bless McBe and his price-increasing soul – and note he pops up again in section THREE of this post), every single establishment absolutely nails their own signature look. Proof Pizza has the impressive oven. It’s a lot more impressive in real life than in this tiny thumbnail, trust me. It’s true! Trust me, I’m like a smart person. Also, they have a wine wall, pictured below. And this is a good thing, as people who enjoy wine tell me.
I try the pizza. The crust is dense, politely speaking. Impolitely speaking, it is doughy. It is limp and doughy. It is the angry enemy of a thin crust. And the opposite of a thin crust is not, as one may logically suppose, a Chicago deep dish pie, but rather a doughy one – dough that never quite escapes its primordial origins to become a proper crust. The crumb is semi-decent, the corniccione is verging on good, but the crust is the disappointing base that the pizza never quite recovers from. It’s like a soggified crust for a pizza that saw its way from the oven to my table without ever being popped in a cardboard box. The toppings are fine, but they can’t quite save this one. Life is too cruel and brief to suffer un-crust-worthy pizzas. Unless it’s free, of course.
Also, that base! That tomato base is a swamp on the crust. No wonder it’s doughy.
(The astute reader may notice that I refrain here from stating the exact pizza I took. There’s a simple reason for this: post-disappointment, I headed off to drown my pizza-sorrows in a deluge of beer and can no longer recall many details of that night)
I exit stage left, relay my befuddlement to expectant friends (kidding, I have none), and tell our intern to remove Proof Pizza from the list. To my surprise, the entire Foodgazer family would soon find our way back to Proof (see: TWO) and Proof would also subsequently find its way to us for a third encounter (see: THREE). While you are perfectly entitled to stop reading at this point, we strongly recommend you move on to our other two encounters below. They paint a fuller picture of the highs that Proof can reach and gave us some insight into the nourishing benefits of forgiveness and second chances.
Unlike the typical Chinese father, your friendly neighbourhood Foodgazers believe in second chances. And it’s with that magnanimity in mind that we end up back at Proof Pizza after that first outing marred by a shockingly watery tomato base and a chewy doughy base (See: ONE). This time, we brought along reinforcements in the form of seasoned veteran and experienced eater @thefoodtrooper.
First of all, though, quick shoutout to Becky for the immaculate service and for recommending the pizza polpa di granchio, one of four pies we enjoyed to varying degrees.
I know. There’s only 3 pies in the photo above. We devoured the 4th before it dawned on us that our job entails taking photographs of the food we eat.
We began proceedings with the La Americano (RM45 for a 12″):
This bad boy sounds delicious on paper: hickory-smoked bacon (proper pork bacon!), broccoli, mozzarella, gorgonzola, and cherry tomatoes. Surely that’s a combination that can coast on the sheer deliciousness of its constituent ingredients! So proclaimed the naive Foodgazers. In practice, the rich creamy cheese thoroughly overwhelmed the bacon. Never mind the smokiness, we could barely taste the bacon in itself, the cured porky goodness coming up only in the smallest whispers and gasps of saltiness amidst the sloshing cheese.
At this point, it’s worth taking a very brief detour to talk about what some deem the pernicious nature of food criticism. After all, surely this is all just food and not particularly bad food either, the way we sometimes make it out to be? And behind that faceless grub are kitchens full of earnest cooks and behind that, well-meaning owners and such and such. We get that. And it’s important to note that we aren’t out to nitpick restaurants into non-existence. There are times we run into the sort of meandering chains that clearly couldn’t care less about the quality of food being sent out unless it very directly impacts their customer count (Sushi Zanmai and the like come to mind), and then there are times we find places that have the fundamentals and potential for an excellent kitchen but for any number of reasons aren’t quite at the level we suspect they can operate at. Proof Pizza very obviously falls into the latter category. And we nitpick because we’ve had better pizzas from them, we’ve had differing experiences when we visit, and because ultimately the last thing we need more of in KL’s food scene is complacent acceptance of mediocrity.
We know the La Americano can be better. By virtue of the time lapse between when we visited and the time of this posting, it’s entirely possible it’s already better. We sure hope that’s the case.
Onwards, then, to the Luganega pork sausage (RM 50 for 12″). It’s better. Marginally. The toppings (aforementioned sausage, cauliflower, egg, yoghurt, feta cheese) are thick, soppy and hearty but they threaten to blend into a mesh from which individual components are indecipherable. We would have preferred a slight citrusy or spicy element to lift the richness a tad. Most of all, though, the pizza is let down by the inconsistent dough. For it is here that the doughy dough of our first visit (see section ONE above) strikes again with a vengeance. The crust is uneven. It’s thin at spots. It’s thick and doughy at others. And sure, it’s sourdough but it lacks the exuberant bite and sour airiness of, say, Yin’s Sourdough Bakery in Penang.
Third time lucky: the Umbrian Black Truffle (RM53 for 12″) proved Proof Pizza’s mettle. It’s simple enough on the menu (mushrooms, black truffle paste and taleggio). When it finally pops off the paper and into the mouth, the Foodgazers are taken aback. In a good way, of course. The savouriness is complex, the saltiness is potent but just on the brink of being overwhelming, and the crust is – dare we say it – finally quite good! Sure, it lacks the previously mentioned bite and heft of other sourdough crusts, and it’s not the thin crispy sort some parties enjoy, but it’s hard to fault it too much. This time, we held back the lashing tongues and set them to work on the pizza. And yet the evening wasn’t quite over yet.
Did we save the best for last? This (un)humble Foodgazer certainly thinks so. The pizza polpa di granchio (RM53 for 12″) set up a grandstand finale with one of the tastiest pizzas we’ve had in KL. It’s not just a burst of flavours, it’s a collection of multiple bursts. There’s the striking sweetness from the crab claw meat, shining through brightly amidst the throaty base of the herbed pesto. There’s the mozzarrella and pecorino romano jousting for centre stage. There’s the zingy cleanliness granted by the lemon zest and cherry tomatoes. Excellent stuff. Great flavour profile, brilliant balance (finally!) and the crust didn’t let it down either. Well recommended if they consistently swirl it out as good as the time we tried it.
Oh, and of course there was some Inside Scoop ice cream to round out the night. The wooden spoons were a nice touch. We thought of heading over to Case Study two doors down for drinks but they were already in the transition to closing and becoming Watermark, if that’s what they’re called now. We do know some of the most promising bartenders from Case Study went over to Birch @ DC Mall.
If nothing else, it’s heartening to see a KL eatery that actually progresses and improves, especially one at this price point. The only similar place that comes to mind is KGB, with their increased patty and bun sizes, and immediate nixing of the faux-poutine. Proof Pizza is promising. And in a disjointed, emerging culinary landscape where consistency tends to only slip downstream (link to other post here), we are genuinely happy to find a place open to incorporating feedback and improving. Granted, it’s still early days for Proof Pizza (okay, not so early once you get around to reading this), but deep down under our gruffygazer exteriors, we’re optimists at heart. Make us proud, Proof.
We didn’t visit Proof Pizza a third time. Or, well, we haven’t yet. It’s not because we were disappointed in the food – we’re well aware of their ability to toss out some of the best pizzas in town on a good day. It’s more of a time constraint thing, really. Our Gazing obligations pull us to all sorts of new places around the good old Klang Valley and we seldom have time to revisit places at our own leisure. Unless, of course, it’s Great Beer Bar and we’re looking to knock back some craft beers – which has been happening a wallet-shocking number of times recently. Could we perhaps be alcoholics?
Anyway, we were at APW for a different reason. It was after our meal at J&D Espresso. We were over at APW for a haircut at 52 Barbers, run by a certain barber named McBe. And like Peter in The Book of Strange New Things, he took us in and preached to us words of wisdom. Words like “Enjoy life, bro” while dispensing whisky and classic haircuts amidst the delta blues in the background. These were different times, you understand, different, cheaper times. McBe, in his selvedge denim, snipped hair, snapped shots on his X-Pro 1, and after the hair was shed, turned with us to pizza. Or, more accurately, he bestowed upon us two pies from Proof.
And by god strike me down like the heathen husk I am if this wasn’t the best damn pizza we’ve had from Proof.
Not this one, mind you, which was pretty damn good.
Fair to say, even, that it rivalled the better pizzas of Round TWO (see section above).
But this is the bad boy who took home the metaphorical cake. Readers of section TWO will recognize it as the black umbian truffle.
And it had a great crust. A great crust! From Proof! Had they unlocked the secret after all? Who knows. The toppings didn’t want to be outshined. They were gorgeous. In fact, the entire thing was nothing short of sublime.
We huddled around, grabbed slice after slice, shoveled them into our greedy gobs, and were struck silent and dumb by the pulsating savoury pleasures of the truffle-flesh. And when we were done, we stumbled off in a pizza-daze and washed our hands and headed home and slept and woke the next morning with the taste gone from our mouths but never from our minds and months later I write this and think back to the good old days at 52 Barbers when a Malaysian living in Singapore, two gluttonous Gazers and a McBe found some measure of temporary contentment and peace in a few slices of pizza.