Shanghai doesn’t lack for pizza restaurants, but unfortunately truly quality ones remain vastly outnumbered by those who languish in mediocrity, or worse. Thankfully, this addition to the crowded dining strip of Donghu Lu has parachuted straight into the more desirable of these categories.
Opened by Yuri Valazza, the man behind popular imported goods shop Feidan, Gemma features a small menu of pizzas and antipasti drawn up with consultation from Franck Pecol of Franck, Farine and Rachel’s (see page 46). As with Pecol’s own outlets, the menu at Gemma is short and sweet, with a focus on delivering high quality dishes.
There’s a small range of salads and antipasti along with cold cuts of speck, salami and prosciutto (88RMB for three, 138RMB for five). A medium-sized bowl of mixed leaves, cherry tomatoes and radish (50RMB) is a straightforward opener, though with the radish slices few and far between, our serving felt a little flat. A far stronger salad selection is the tiberio, which features mixed leaves, smoked ham, fillets of chicken breast and a generous heap of croutons and grated parmesan cheese, though at time of writing it was only available as part of the lunch set menu (88RMB for a salad, small pizzetta and dessert or coffee).
Also among the appetisers is a small range of cheeses, including a burrata (110RMB) from Sololatte, the mozzarella specialist firm founded by Kyeong Joo Lee. Served at Gemma with a drizzle of pesto and on a small bed of arugula leaves, our burrata came a little over chilled and with a slightly watery centre, rather than a creamy one, resulting in a less impressive bite than at Lee’s recently opened Bottega restaurant.
But these starters are mostly distractions from the real highlights at Gemma: the pizzas. Delivered with thick Neapolitan style crusts from a wood-fired domed oven in one corner of the space, they’re divided into three categories depending on the type of base – red (tomato), green (pesto) and white (crème fraiche).
From the reds, the Serafina (138RMB) is a delicious combination of mushrooms, stracciatella and prosciutto crudo. Full of flavour from a sauce of roasted cherry tomatoes and pleasingly stretchy cheese that melds beneath thin cuts of ham, the slightly gooey (in a good way) topping is buffered by a chewy crust dotted with satisfyingly charred bubbles and blisters.
A similar topping (with the mushrooms swapped for arugula leaves) crowns the pesto option (158RMB), though the sauce sinks easily into the base and the slightly spartan blobs of cheese and other ingredients become overwhelmed. Surprisingly light by contrast is the Bianca (148RMB), where the crème fraiche base supplies a moreish backdrop to a topping of straciatella, speck and arugula.
The imported ingredients (and artisanal local ones) mean that prices are far from cheap, but the pizzas are generously sized and big enough to be shared, especially if supplemented by a couple of starters and followed with a dessert.
And the latter is something you’ll want to save room for, with Gemma’s in-house gelato proving another highlight. Two small globules of ice cream will set you back 50RMB, but the flavours and textures are excellent. A rich chocolate option is impressive, but the standout is the basilico and cream.
Valazza and his restaurant manager Giulioantonio di Sabato are reportedly working on turning the second floor space at Gemma into an area that will focus on handmade pasta dishes, which if the quality of the downstairs operation is anything to go by, is something to very much look forward to. For now, Gemma’s simple menu and stylish setting are already enough to make it one of the city’s go-to Italian joints.
By Jake Newby