Food review: Peepo, Bridgnorth – 4/5 stars
It’s been eight years since Peepo made its mark on Bridgnorth High Street. Andy Richardson returns to sample a slice of the action . . .
There’s a war on our high streets. Huge corporations with financial muscle suck up big rents and sell boil-in-the-bag dinners disguised as something far more fancy while tiny little independents struggle to make ends meet.
It’s a one-sided contest where multiples benefit from bigger buying power, the ability to cross-collateralise (get us and our fancy words) marketing budgets and hijack the profits of their smaller rivals. It’s like sticking Tyson Fury in the ring with an amateur from a local boxing club.
And yet. And yet.
Just because there’s an uneven playing field, the results aren’t always the same. Occasionally, David beats Goliath. And in the case of Peepo, on Bridgnorth’s High Street, that’s precisely what happens.
It’s been open for about eight years now and has consistently run rings around its bigger rivals. The reason for that is simple: the food’s better, the service is friendlier and the restaurant thinks smarter.
The man behind Peepo is Phil Jeffrey and his career in marketing and hospitality equips him to remain light on his feet. While cumbersome national chains are ponderously slow, Jeffrey reacts quickly. A local man, he’s in tune with the needs and wants of the town better than some regional manager in some distant office block.
It’s been ever thus since Peepo launched in a blaze of cool, Italian scooters and 00 flour – the stuff that makes pizza bases crisp and light – all those years ago. And it’s still the case today. Peepo offers neat opening times that fit in with the school run and provide cheap-and-cheerful eating options around teatime, there are offers galore for those who want to nab a bargain during the middle of the week and there’s a delivery service for indolent couch potatoes who want pizza at the doorstep and the moon on a stick.
Aesthetically, the Peepo of 2018 looks little like the version that opened around 2010. Gone are the red and blue banner colours in place of softer, warmer yellows. The walls are decorated with stripped wood and more mirrors than a Harveys Furniture store – all the better to reflect light and make the place feel light, bright and spacious.
The menu has changed over the years and now shamelessly hogs the middle ground. There’s no suggestion that Peepo is a gourmand offering – though its pizzas are among some of the best on offer in Shropshire; a list which includes Shrewsbury’s Dough and Oil and Ludlow restaurant Pizza Ten – instead, Peepo goes straight for the jugular, competing with all-comers. There’s coffee and cake for daytime café-goers, cheap eats for people who fancy something just after work or school and a wide range of pizzas and pasta dishes – not forgetting steaks – that take the fight back to the national chains. Competitive, chameleonic and tenacious, Peepo also challenges local bars by providing a spirit room that’s choc-full of cocktails. Served in a panelled and sophisticated room on the first floor, it’s the place to go for such house specials as a passionfruit martini, honey berry sour, brandy Alexander and strawberry daiquiri.
Hard work and determination have made Peepo one of the town’s stand-out restaurants and it appeals to an unfussy crowd. When I called for an unbooked midweek supper, two young ladies were sitting in the corner marvelling at the exotic pleasure of camembert – though they call it Cammon-Bear. Sounding like Denise Best from TV’s The Royle Family, they discussed its merits before opting for something completely different.
“I’ve never had that before.”
“What is it? Cammon-Bear?”
“It’s cheese. But I think it melts and you dip things in it.”
“What, like melted cheese?”
I didn’t go for the Cammon-Bear either, instead starting with perfectly serviceable chicken strips that were southern-fried in a spicy crumb and served with sour cream and chives. Unpretentious and plainly served, they were utterly delicious. The chicken was moist and tender, the breadcrumb crackingly crunchy and the dip fine. I’m pretty sure the chicken hadn’t spent a happy life feasting on corn and scratching around beneath shady trees, but you get what you pay for and at six quid I had no complaints.
My main was a pizza, inevitably. Though Peepo is as mainstream as a Take That concert and offers fish pie, fish and chips, peri-peri chicken, steak and chips, salads, mac and cheese, lasagne and more golden classics than a Cliff Richard concert, it would have seemed rude not to chow down on the house special.
Eight years in, Peepo still knocks out a pretty decent pizza. Thin, crispy and generously topped; they’re served with a cutting wheel so that people can slice them at the table. Mine was an Italian Stallion, topped with pepperoni, mozzarella, Milano salami, prosciutto ham, pork sausage, chorizo, olives, rocket and tomato sauce. By a third of the way in, I think I’d consumed by daily recommended calorie intake. But I ploughed on, manfully, until I could feel my very own pizza baby start to kick.
Peepo remains head and shoulders among the flotsam and jetsam pizza makers that dot the county. It stands alongside the specialists in Shrewsbury and Ludlow.
My Italian Stallion was served with a side of posh chips that were coated generously in Parmesan and olive oil. The flavours were great and the Parmesan melted seductively on top of the chips. The chips themselves weren’t anything to write home about, in truth. They weren’t particularly crunchy and hadn’t been double fried. They were just run-of-the-mill chips with decent toppings.
I skipped dessert; corpulence was already upon me and the deep fried Mars bar (for real, they serve it) wouldn’t have found room alongside the pizza baby.
Scores on the doors, Vera? Peepo lands a meaty four out of five. It represents a spectacular triumph by owner Phil, whose continual graft has been rewarded with a sustainable business for which people have real affection.
Restaurants are a mug’s game, by and large, with long hours, small profit margins and dissatisfied customers. Phil has navigated his way through such choppy waters, beaten the nationals at their own game and created one of the region’s best pizzarias – heck, it even serves Cammon-Bear, the melting cheese. Mamma mia. All credit to him.