Oscar & Rosie’s has been filling bellies with the best pizza in town for over three years, and now they’re moving premises; to the old LeftLion offices, at The Corner on Stoney Street, no less. We gave restaurant owner and friend Olly Hunter a bell to find out a bit more about his dough-based endeavours, and how he plans to top what he’s created so far…
Before opening Oscar & Rosie’s, you used to be a lawyer…
I was in legal aid: publicly funded defence work. I went into it with a huge amount of zeal and enthusiasm because I wanted to make a difference and, after ten years, it got ground out of me. It’s very contentious – conflict all the time – and that gets you down after a while. Also, the environments you spend your time in can be a bit depressing. It’s quite institutional, and not in a good way; you’re usually in court, the police station, or offices. I was never a great fit in law, I was always a little bit of a wild card, a loose cannon if you will. Frankly, I’m surprised I lasted as long as I did.
I was becoming cynical, in the way that lawyers often do. When I was exposed to the world of business, I realised that it’s full of energised, enthusiastic people who love their job, and there’s a world out there where you can be creative and positive. I want to jump out of bed in the morning and feel excited. I can’t fake it; if I’m really into something, then I will tend to do better. If I’m not into it, forget it.
What made you want to open a pizza restaurant?
I wasn’t actually that into pizza at the time, and I didn’t really eat a lot of it because I’d had some bad experiences. One day, I ordered a pepperoni pizza from a well-known high-street delivery chain. A medium was £12, so I ordered that one, and I was like, “This is gonna be awesome. For £12, this is gonna be the shit.” When it arrived, I opened the box, looked at the pitiful little thing inside and said “I’m going to open a pizza restaurant. Because, for £12, I can do better than this.”
That was in the summer of 2013, and we were open at the Picnic Basket in November, mainly doing deliveries. I used to go in there all the time when I was at court, so I already knew the lady that opened it. It costs a lot of money to set up your own food place, so I was trying to find an underused resource. She closed in the evenings and at weekends, so she agreed to rent me her shop at those times, and for me to install my newly acquired pizza oven, Bertha. I wanted it to be fantastic quality, with a real impetus on quality meat which we got from Beedham’s in Sherwood: the best meat there is. Everything else went from there.
You went from the Picnic Basket, to a pop-up in Das Kino for a year, and then onto your own premises on Thurland Street…
After Das Kino, we were offered partnerships with bigger boys to do a good-sized restaurant in town, and to get in bed with somebody who had more money than us. But, Thurland Street… it had walls and a ceiling and floors and toilets, and I got the crazy idea that we could probably do this ourselves. It was smaller than what we could get if we went with somebody else, but it would be ours. We were there for two years in all.
The aesthetic of the place was bleddy lovely.
Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say so. We had to start with the fact that we were constrained by our resources. You should always be authentic and make a virtue of the reality of the situation. If you have limited resources, don’t try and hide it, and that’s what we did there. Sometimes you go to a place where they’ve clearly been on a tight budget but tried to pretend they’re not, and it really shows. It’s a shame, as people don’t necessarily want or expect really expensive furnishings. What they often want is authenticity, and they want a connection.
I find the easiest way to do that is to be yourself. I’d grown up around farmhouse tables, so I bought tatty, inexpensive tables on Gumtree and Ebay, sanded them all down and painted the legs in different colours to bring out their character. I really like the way that place looked by the end. As is always the way when you’re leaving, all the things that annoyed me about it seemed to melt into the background.
You’re moving to The Corner on Stoney Street, LeftLion’s old offices. How do you feel about the building?
I think it’s a she. I came by her years ago when I was first looking at moving out of the Picnic Basket, but I didn’t have anything approaching the resources or the expertise to take on a building like this. But I’ve come back for her. She’s just beautiful. I love that the buildings around her are quite ornate and period and she doesn’t really fit in with everything else on Stoney Street. She is, in the nicest possible way, a little bit of an eyesore, and that really does it for me.
We’ve really tried to keep and repurpose a lot of the charm of the building; we’ve uncovered the original Post Office floor out the front, the original tiles under the laminate flooring have come up beautifully. We’re trying to keep as much of her as possible. She’s a right monster, and I suspect, over the next ten years, she’s going to be the bane of my life. She’ll be a pain in the arse, but she’ll be my pain in the arse. I’m utterly smitten.
Talking about authenticity, how important is it to you to either adhere to or stray away from the traditions of pizza?
Our relationship to the traditions of pizza is that we have absolutely no relationship to the traditions of pizza. Obviously pizza is an Italian thing, but I was always very clear from the start that there were to be no Italian references. I’m from Bristol, and have no Italian heritage, so to try and associate myself with that would have been a mistake.
That said, we do very well with Italians, they’re very fond of our pizza. They like the dough and the crispiness, but an Italian purist would cry at what we do. For instance, the Boom Chicken Wah Wah has a barbecue base with chicken on it, and you don't get that with Italian pizza. While I love to eat traditional, Italian pizza, there’s a good deal of dogma involved in making it, and I wanted to avoid that sort of constraint. We’re our own thing; I call it the British version of the American take of the Italian classic. We’re more akin to the American pizza; they’re bigger, and more heavily topped than their Italian cousins.
I’d actually never made a pizza in a pizza oven until half an hour before Oscar & Rosie’s opened at the Picnic Basket. I just came up with a load of ideas that I thought sounded really nice. I tried about half of them out before we opened, and when we did, we invited a bunch of people down and gave loads away. We thought it’d be a good chance to try them out and have a bit of a practice, so that's what we did.
Where did the name Oscar & Rosie’s come from?
Lots of people call me Oscar, and I often respond because it's easier, but Oscar and Rosie are my cats. I was trying to come up with a name and Oscar and Rosie kept coming up to me, and I thought it had a nice ring to it. They’re very old and tatty. Oscar has one eye and Rosie has no tail. My girlfriend is always telling me to put pictures of them up around the restaurant. I really do love them cats, but I don’t think they’d sell much pizza...
Oscar & Rosie’s, 8 Stoney Street, Nottingham, NG1 1LH.