If you’re eating at Voodoo Ray’s you’re doing life right
It’s fit people and pizza by-the-slice
Despite the rise and rise of sit-down chains like Franco Manca and Pizza East, there’s something very pure about buying your pizza by-the-slice.
The culture of individual slices was forged in the stone pizza ovens of Brooklyn, rather than the alleyways of Naples. London loves pizza (there are five pages of GIFs tagged “pizza” on zeitgeist blog London Grumblr) but we’ve been playing catch-up on the slice game for a few years. You could get them at Spitalfields, and Homeslice does a good fold-over. But nowhere has really nailed pizza by the slice like Voodoo Ray’s.
The perfect size for folding; the charred chewiness of the crust; the balance of fresh vegetables; the meatballs, which are actually pieces of sausage rolled into fat spheres, and yet manage not to overpower the slice. It’s like they’ve stolen the very best thing about New York and brought it over here.
The team could live off the pizza’s reputation alone, and fast food usually means in-and-out. But Voodoo Ray’s has turned its stores – one in Dalston, the other at Boxpark – into venues. Queues pour out of the original Kingsland Road branch on Saturday nights, many preferring pizza to clubbing (the playlist competes with the buzz of the street). There are pics of the staff, and frozen margaritas churning hypnotically in a machine by the ovens.
And people really love it. This week, when they launched Slice Club – a loyalty card scheme – they gave out 100 free slices at both shops; in Shoreditch, there was a mini riot and it was all gone in under an hour.
“In New York they have a culture of selling pizza by the slice, which we just don’t have over here,” says Dan Beaumont, one of the three founders. “We went out there to do some research and loved it. In NYC there’s a famous pizza spot called Ray’s – and Voodoo Ray is one of our favourite records.”
Beaumont – who also launched Dalston Superstore – opened his first store on Kingsland Road in 2012, and a second standalone pizza parlour at Boxpark in Shoreditch in 2015. The team caught the Dalston wave early, kickstarting “the strip”.
“Dalston is kind of our manor,” he says. “We wanted to give an alternative to all the kebab shops [that stay open] long into the night. It turned out to be popular and we opened another store in Boxpark last year. I can’t give too much away but we’re looking to do something else in London this year.”
What are the people queuing for? There’s the Rubenesque (salt beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and Emmental); there’s the Hot Mix 5 (pepperoni, jalapeno, red chillies, pepper, mozzarella and tomato); there’s the Green Velvet (artichoke hearts, green olives, sunblush tomatoes, mozzarella and green pesto). There are daily specials created by the chefs.
The team always imagined a big and varied menu. “Staff have old favourites and things we want to cling on to and never let go off the menu,” Beaumont admits. “But we serve some things at different times and some only after midnight. Personally I like to keep it simple. Buffalo mozzarella or even the plain slice. I always think people get more carnivorous after a night out so they want something with lots of meat on it. The Full Moon Slice is only available after midnight and has fresh tomato, mozzarella, bacon dust and mayonnaise.”
It gets “rowdy” after midnight, says marketing guy Andrew Evans, “but in a good way.” One colleague, who used to live 10 minutes from the Dalston store, admits that plenty of times she planned to head home and ended up getting waylaid by Voodoo Ray’s. “It’s always full of fit people – the sort of people you were sort of hoping to find in The Nest or Bar 512, though instead, it turns out they’re all getting pizza up the road. You pop in because your mate says they’re in there and then end up eating – and sobering up a little, which is convenient – and then you realise you’re actually having a much better night out, and this part you’re likely to remember. I think once I pitched a pizza to the staff. I don’t think I got the job.”
“It’s awesome,” says Evans. “I’ve haven’t been here long, but I love it. Meat is on is my favourite, everyone loves a bit of meat. You should see the specials – for Elvis’ birthday we had a pizza with peanut butter, banana and bacon on it.” Chefs are given free range for their creations, but as long as it passes their taste test, Voodoo Ray’s will sell it.
After midnight Evans admits the store turns into a party with their “die-hard” fans in Dalston. Dancing and drinking with a slice in your hand common. In Shoreditch it’s a little more relaxed, but it stands out from the rest of the hidden food spots bearing bland signage in Box Park.
It’s in-step with London’s food trends: “[We’ve] always had such a huge vegan following,” says Beaumont, “and we always have one special called the Queen Vegan (artichokes, red onion, tomato and herb gremolata). We’re looking into doing a gluten free slice too.” His advice is to “keep it simple. Go for something like the margharita or the buffalo mozarella. It’s literally impossible to get sick of pizza.”
Perhaps it’s being brought up on a diet of Domino’s and soggy microwaved Chicago Town that drives us from sceptic to zealot whenever we get the real deal. “There is nothing I crave more than my weekly Giorgio Moroder,” confirms Tom Jenkin, who lives in Hoxton and works near the Boxpark shop. “It’s probably the only vegetarian thing I think is acceptable. It’s sublime. It’s for everyone too. I’ve been in there and seen bankers shaking grated parmesan onto the Rubenesques of bearded skateboarders.”
“I’m not sure what they do to it in there,” says Grace Vielma. “It’s hearty, but not so hearty it’s a Domino’s. It’s interesting, but you’ve heard of all the ingredients, and they just work. If you can get past buying pizza by the slice (trust me, you can), try the Rubenesque with a garlic dip for the crust.”
Will Croxford, who’s worked for the company since before the Dalston store opened isn’t sick of it yet. “For the first two years I only ate the Giorgio Moroder (goats cheese, sunblush tomatoes, courgette, basil, mozzarella). Craft beer and pizza just go together perfectly.”
We might live in New York’s shadow in many respects: they’ve got taller buildings, they catch onto food trends quicker. But thanks to Voodoo Ray’s, pizza by the slice is something we do just as well.