City Oltra review, Sydney pizza restaurants

Lee Tran Lam

It’s true, the pizzas at City Oltra are huge. They’re “good luck stretching your arms around the takeaway box” huge. They’re even bigger than the “extra large” option at fast food outlets huge. They’re “don’t worry about ever feeling underfed again” huge.

These party-sized pies reflect the crowd-pleasing origins of this business, which began two years ago as a pizza pop-up at Poor Toms Gin Hall in Marrickville. “It was just called Discs,” says co-founder Ben Fester. “We were basically calling the pizzas discs and people were playing music as well.”

Fester’s hospitality CV includes stints at noteworthy venues (Porcine, The Old Fitz) and time prepping slices at Pizzeria E Cucina in Newport, but he points to partner Drew Huston as the dough-slinging pro. “Drew’s probably made 10,000 pizzas or more,” he says.

Many of these were during Huston’s years at Dimitri’s Pizzeria, the inner-city institution that’s endured since the ’70s. You have to admire his commitment to their pop-up. “Drew would make pizzas every day at his job and then on his one day off, we’d go somewhere else and make pizza as well,” says Fester, laughing.

City Oltra, which opened late last year, offers hits from the past, when they hauled ovens to Poor Toms Gin Hall to produce puffy crusts, bubbling cheese pools and blistered toppings.

Their Sweethearts pizza is from this time: it has a blitzed layer of seasoned Roman-style artichokes, a bonus round of roasted artichokes, and is judiciously sweetened with honey and gorgonzola.

The Sweethearts pizza features artichoke.
The Sweethearts pizza features artichoke.Brook Mitchell

It is a winning example of the Oltra team’s originality. They like to “sly away from more traditional flavours”, which is why they serve pepperoni pizza with an unapologetic slathering of tangy ranch dressing, or bypass an obvious vodka sauce for one cleverly made from gin – which adds a welcome intensity to the tomatoey topping and neatly pays tribute to their Poor Toms Gin Hall origins, too.

Left-field touches, such as a roast garlic cream that’s piped onto a mushroom-rich pizza, or an “everyday bagel crumb” that’s like savoury magic dust on a zucchini and ricotta topping, is what makes City Oltra’s slices so memorable.

The fresh, jagged bite of herbs also gives these cheese-bronzed pies a vital lift – particularly the dill, mint, parsley and chives that slash through the garlic sauce and cheese-dense ooze of the Green Square pizza. This pizza is partly inspired by Detroit’s deep-dish style, with a nostalgic hint of Pizza Hut’s thick crusts.

The duo researched the ideal pans to buy and experimented on cheese blends (less soggy mozzarella, more sharp cheddar) to generate that lacy, sun-tanned edge. Apparently they’re called “fico crusts”, although Fester dubs them “the perfect cheese corner”.

The Detroit-style Green Square pizza.
The Detroit-style Green Square pizza.Brook Mitchell

They add to City Oltra’s fun-maximising feel; ditto the well-oiled slices, which leave a moisturising varnish of pizza grease on your face as you messily savour the rich toppings.

City Oltra’s laidback and easygoing feel is reflected in its inclusive menu (yes, you can order half-and-half toppings, go for all-vegan add-ons on an entire pie, request a gluten-free square pizza, or just order by the slice before hopping on a nearby tram, train or bus).

There’s a sandwich menu, too, which includes the continental roll, a Perth specialty that’s a rarity on the east coast, made with Oltra’s own bread.

Fun collaborations are on the cards, with a coming event featuring Fester’s old Porcine colleague, acclaimed chef Nik Hill.

If you’ve hit a dancefloor in Sydney recently, you might also recognise Fester from his DJ gigs, where he turns up with a record bag stuffed with vinyl from the past five decades, ready to spin techno, house and everything in between.

This party atmosphere translates to City Oltra, with its “Music From
Friends” nights, international pizzeria collaborations and “don’t outstay your welcome” awareness that their lease might wrap up at the end of the year.

The pizzas here are huge and so are the good vibes.

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