London is home to several Italian restaurants, but a new eatery in Hackney is more than just a spot to get a pizza - it's also a gallery promoting local artists that will leave you inspired.

Unlock on Monkwood Way, Hackney Wick opened its doors on March 21 and we paid it a visit to try their mouth-watering authentic Neapolitan Pizzas, Italian cocktails and wine, and experience the creative concept behind it.  

The first thing about the venue that's unique is the layout with professional portraits on display for passers by to enjoy.

Hackney Gazette: The white posh interiors adds a serene feel to the venueThe white posh interiors adds a serene feel to the venue (Image: Unlock)

The vibe of the restaurant felt friendly, contemporary, and stylish with the staff going over and above to serve and welcome visitors.

The menu had a range of starters, classic pizza and gourmet pizza options cooked with traditional Italian recipes.

This included a Salsiccia & Friarielli pizza with smoked provola cheese, sausage and spicy wild broccoli, a Prawn & Pistachio pizza with pistachio pesto and panco tempura prawns among the toppings and for the vegans, a Marinata pizza, that has marinated mushrooms and Taggiasca olives along with an exotic Jerusalem artichoke cream and coriander.

Hackney Gazette: The pizzas are said to be made with traditional Napoli recipes and contain an innovative mix of ingredientsThe pizzas are said to be made with traditional Napoli recipes and contain an innovative mix of ingredients (Image: Unlock)

We were spoilt for choice and decided to go for a vegetarian Buffalo Pizza that was made of tomato, two types of mozzarella cheeses- a regular and a buffalo, and some yellow datterinos.

The cheese-filled delight was a tasty and saucy serving with every bite into the whole tomatoes releasing juices that blended well with the mozzarella. It was like a whole new experience of eating a pizza that unravels its flavours with every bite.

Hackney Gazette: The vegetarian Buffalo Pizza served at the restaurantThe vegetarian Buffalo Pizza served at the restaurant (Image: Riddhi Kachhela)

The highlight of the meal, however, was their trademark Unlock pizza boasting truffle paste, prosciutto crudo (uncooked), unsmoked and dry-cured ham and some deep-fried mushrooms.

True to its name, the pizza unlocked our taste buds with the mushrooms adding a crunch to the soft textures of the ham and mozzarella cheese, and the sweetness of the truffle elevated the palate. For truffle lovers, this would be a go-to choice.

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We paired the food with traditional Italian cocktails and mocktails that were tangy, refreshing and subtle but rich in aroma.

Hackney Gazette: The venue has a good variety of non-alcoholic mocktails in addition to Italian wines and cocktailsThe venue has a good variety of non-alcoholic mocktails in addition to Italian wines and cocktails (Image: Riddhi Kachhela)

While we savoured the exquisite pizza and drinks, there was also something equally great at the venue to complete the experience- its art!

The portraits had the theme – Raiders and Dreamers- and showcased the works of Italian photographer Mario Guarino who was born in Napoli but has been living and working in London for two years.

The exhibit grouped together two of his creations- I Am Gomorrah that were shot in Naples in 2008, and Dreamers that were snapped in London in 2014. The common threated between the people used as subjects in these pictures, was their journey through adversity to a path of redemption and newfound passions.

Hackney Gazette: The portraits by photographer Mario Guarino on display at the restaurantThe portraits by photographer Mario Guarino on display at the restaurant (Image: Unlock)

I am Gomorrah featured the original cast of an Italian movie- Gomorrah- where the actors were real inmates from an infamous Italian prison. The project was said to be created in collaboration with the film director Guido Lombardi and Producer Gaetano di Vaio, and invited the cast to shoot their individual portraits bringing out their personalities and emotions.

The second series- Dreamers- highlighted a group of boxers training at Pedro Club in Clapton, east London that was founded by famous boxing champion CBE James Cook to train young people and take them off the life of crime.

The humanity behind these pictures were striking, and the compilation filled me with a sense of hope, vulnerability and determination – exactly what art is supposed to do.

Hackney Gazette: Co-founder of Unlock- Giovanni IzzoCo-founder of Unlock- Giovanni Izzo (Image: Unlock)

The founders of the restaurant have described their ambitions to take their artistic collaborations to the next level by inviting the photographer himself and flying in the stars of his portraits from Italy to London for a talk one evening.

The passion of the artists was also evident in the founders themselves who gleefully quoted “we live for art and food. If we cannot give back and do something for the community, there is no point to what we do”.

With this deep insight, we left the restaurant with admiration for its big heart, its enticing food, and its courage to stand for what it believes in.