Fire and Stone, Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth

Milton Jones Is Out There

Milton Jones walks the fine line between clever and stupid at Portsmouth Guildhall

Ah, pizza. That perennial favourite junk food, either eaten at home, in a restaurant or fast food joint.

What would the lazy among us do without this easy choice?

Now, hands up those who have had a pizza which actually satisfies? Hmmm, I thought not.

The Greeks and Romans started the pizza-making trend and Neapolitans still believe there are only two types: Marinara and Margherita.

Peter Boizot got the dough ball rolling here in 1965 with his Pizza Express chain, sold last year for 900m.

There's money in them thar pizza hills, which is precisely why Fire & Stone ('Deliciously Different Pizzas'), new kids on the dough block, opened their first London branch five years ago despite vigorous competition.

They've now branched out into Gunwharf Quays and fit 24 pizzas at a time in wood-fired ovens, chefs turning a pizza every four seconds.

But these aren't just any old pizzas, F&S playing around with the original by topping their own pizza dough ('the crispiest base possible') with a multitude of ingredients from the Americas, Australasia, Europe, Africa and Asia.

There's the Marrakech (ground lamb, minty yoghurt sauce, raisins, olives); Melbourne (butternut squash, balsamic red onions, brie, mozzarella, poppy seed); Koh Sumui (Thai curry sauce, sweet potato, shallots, mozzarella, mange touts, sweet corn, sesame seeds) and the London (bacon, mozzarella, sausage, black pudding, eggs, tomato sauce). At least they've identified the British national dish: all-day breakfast. Most are around 9. They do salads and pasta too.

I wanted to be bowled over by that crispy base. But those myriad ingredients which belong in a car crash rather than on a plate? Hmmm.

F&S is huge, noisier than even a Carluccio's (and that's saying something).

There are smart banquettes, a map of the world, marble flooring and a large deck. The mostly foreign staff all delightful.

The Texas (BBQ rump steak, red onions, mushrooms, mozzarella, tomato salsa) proved my point: don't mess with pizza.

Rarely have I had such a poor base, the tasteless crust devoid of any interest.

The beef was perfectly edible, the salsa far too sweet, the mushrooms rendered tasteless thanks to the salsa and an odd unbilled sticky balsamic cream.

A small cheesecake (2.95, most desserts are double this) followed. Sweet and sickly, it let me distinctly unimpressed.

My bill ,including a beer came to 15.85 less a tip.

Fire & Stone, just give me a bella Italia pizza. Or is this too much to ask?

Carol is a chef, former restaurateur and editor of Savour, the Guild of Food Writers magazine

Fire and Stone, Unit 20, Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth PO1 3TH

01865 727348

Open: 11.30am–11.30pm every day

Food: **

Service: ****

Atmosphere: ***

Disabled access: Steps up to restaurant.

How to get there: Coming into the city, follow the signs to Gunwharf Quays.

Plenty of parking available.