PIZZA EXPRESS, ST. MARY STREET
We’re firm believers that it’s nearly impossible to ‘do’ Italian food badly, so upon our visit to Pizza Express we were looking for them to show us that X-Factor (just in case Simon’s reading and wants to sue us) to draw us away from the umpteen other Italian eateries in the city.
It appears that over the last two months, Pizza Express has undergone a transformation with a new-design menu, and this particular branch having had its shop front torn out and replaced. The result of this work does make it more inviting, which we imagine it needed, being only a stone’s throw from Prezzo, The Brewery Quarter and next door to the Potted Pig. The old heavy door has been replaced with a fully-lit glass façade which, when coupled with the few tables at the front always being occupied (clever business there), does give the impression it’s bustling with custom.
Visiting on a Wednesday night we were expecting it to be rather busy as Pizza Express offers an Orange Wednesday deal, yet we were seated quickly and offered drinks almost immediately. We quizzed the waiter on what we were entitled to with our Orange deal, and the generous results are as follows: two free starters of either Garlic Bread or Garlic Dough Balls and a buy-one-get-one-free on pizza – certainly an enticing deal.
Being a pizza restaurant, the majority of the menu options here are pizza, but they do offer five different pasta dishes and five different salad mains, if that sort of thing takes your fancy. Amongst all of the pizza you have three different styles to choose from:
Romana – Pizzas traditionally served in Rome, being thinner, crispier and more topping.
Leggera – The ‘lighter’ option of pizza. These have a hole cut in the middle of the pizza which is replaced by a salad.
Classic Pizza – This is their signature pizza and is smaller but deeper than Romana.
We had the time to take all of this pizza knowledge in as our waiter took nearly 15 minutes to ask for our order after delivering our beverages – not the aforementioned ‘X-Factor’ we were looking for. Using this time before ordering we observed their open kitchen which sits smack bang in the middle of the dining area and screams at you, “Our food is fresh!”. There are bowls of all their toppings lined up on the shelves which both chefs were frantically digging in and out of to keep up with the flurry of orders being thrown their way while huge tins of passata were hastily ladled onto every freshly rolled pizza base. Sadly for the kitchen staff, the openness of their operations meant that you could see them opening up the bags of leaves that they were trying to pass off for salad, a move Simon Cowell would surely raise his commanding hand at.
Our order, once it had eventually been taken, consisted of:
Two portions of Garlic Dough balls
One Meatball Bolognese Romana (Spiced Bolognese sauce, beef meatballs, fiery roquito peppers, mozzarella, rocket and grana padano)
One Leggera Pollo as Astra (Chicken, light mozzarella, sweet pepperdew peppers, cajun spices, garlic oil and red onions)
The two portions of eight Garlic Dough Balls that arrived shortly after ordering came with a small pot of garlic butter for dipping. Not the healthiest of options but the balls were warm, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and delicious with a coating of dripping butter. There was once a time when each pizza at Pizza Express arrived with their very own pizza cutter, which was a brilliant idea as thin and crispy pizzas are not the easiest to cut; unfortunately, this was not the case on this visit. Whether it’s something that has been stopped or just because it was so busy, it made the eating of the pizza so much more of an effort. The quality and freshness of both pizzas could not faulted but the lack of a decent cutting utensil left us tearing at our pizzas and the toppings sprawled across our plates, resembling something of a murder scene. The knives supplied were, at best, glorified butter knives, and both parties finished their food with sore wrists and a feeling that they have just been through a work out rather than a meal.
Time to freshen up and take the token visit to the lavatories. Nothing bad to report here. They were clean, well maintained, with a marble basin area sitting under a large mirror. The hand dryers were Dyson Airblade dryers, which get a massive thumbs up!
A feature offered when the bill came was the option to pay for our meal using the Pizza Express iPhone app and a valid PayPal account. While we didn’t choose this, and we imagine not many people do, the option is there for you if you want to avoid that awkward moment when you’re sat there looking at the waiter while he wills he card machine to work faster.
Although our waiter was apologetic for the delays in taking our order and delivering our food, we couldn’t help but feel neglected sat at our small table for two. There was a lack of that ’pizzaz’ that we were looking for, meaning we can’t see ourselves returning here for anything but a cheap pre-Orange Wednesday cinema visit. Nevertheless, two starters and two pizzas for £11.75 is hardly anything to grumble about.