Pizza Express, Newport
UPDATE: Following some pretty dismal service, plus comments on this website about the variability of Pizza Express, Cat decided to give the venue one last try...
When Matt and Cat try a venue with a fickle reputation they will sometimes 'stress test' it by visiting at peak times, or by taking hungry children or fussy old ladies (yes, Matt knows at least one more..!). As Pizza Express had fallen well out of favour with M and C after more than one experience of slack-to-the-point-of-neglectful service and reported food droughts (no cheese, dough or pasta on various occasions), Cat thought she'd give it one last chance. Could it be pulled back from the brink?
On the face of it, Pizza Express is a restaurant full of promise; its vast windows give an expansive view into a clean and intimately-lit eatery. The spotless kitchen is on display and even on closer inspection one can find fresh flowers and smear-free glasses on the tables. The restaurant is usually pretty busy and it seems to have become the children's party venue of choice; gravity- and taste-defying foil balloons often bob about above the tables.
The evening that Cat chose to stress-test Pizza Express was a Wednesday - Orange Wednesday. As all those cinema and pizza lovers amongst you will know, every Wednesday is Orange Wednesday, when you can get two-for-one offers at the cinema and Pizza Express. Cat and a posse of her bargain-sniffing colleagues took their places at the table, discount vouchers flapping. Let the feast, and gossiping, commence!
Because the venue was packed to the gunwales with two well-attended parties (complete with balloons) and other assorted chompers, Cat was expecting the tardiest of service. However, having arrived a bit later than the others, she was pleased to see that menus had already been distributed and, before much longer, drinks orders were given and free starters were on their way. A promising beginning but surely it'll be back to the sloppy form that many of you have experienced of late? The last time Matt and Cat went to Pizza Express they forewent pudding and coffee as the service was so slack. The time before that they waited 20 minutes before walking out with no sign of even a menu at their table.
This time however, it seemed to Cat that Pizza Express had finally got its act together and had employed extra waiting and kitchen staff. This was evidenced by the prompt arrival of scrummy garlic bread and dough balls with garlic dipping butter, made even tastier by their gratis status. The waitresses were very attentive and buzzed about, taking orders, bringing food and generally doing what one expects. However, in their eagerness, a few items hit the deck; the crash of a bottle hitting the floor was heard in one corner of the restaurant. Tragically, as Cat watched her waitress approach with three platters dexterously balanced along her arms, the tiniest change in the plate's angle sent a pizza sliding gracefully from the plate to the floor - Cat's pizza! The padana pizza - goats' cheese, spinach and red onion with tangy caramelised onions and a drizzle of garlic oil - fell cheese-side up but it was not to be saved. The waitress, despite her embarrassment, dealt with the situation efficiently; the two other pizzas were delivered without mishap and the floored remnants were cleared away in a moment. And, without much of a delay, a replacement pizza arrived.
The Padana pizza was delicious. The acid goats cheese was tempered by the sweet caramelised onion chutney and, for veg-obsessive Cat, there was a good dollop of spinach. The menu at Pizza Express changes a couple of times a year and there were some nice new choices, including a range of tiny puddings. Cat has always enjoyed caffe reale - baby figs in a cinnamon and white wine spiced syrup with a dollop of mascarpone - and was delighted to see its return as part of the dolcetti range. Again the orders were taken promptly and the food delivered in good time (although Cat did have to chase up the milk for her Americano coffee). The syrupy figs were spiced to the point of Christmasness; a great taste balanced with the cool mascapone.
So, expecting to give Pizza Express a sound thrashing, Cat was delighted to have a decent eating out experience. This venue was back on form - decent attentive service, great food and a buzzing venue.
Review from 15 November 2005 follows:
Matt and Cat want to write nice things about food chains but the bland fare, indifferent service and wipe clean menus usually make for a negative experience.
Not so Pizza Express, Newport. This newly opened pizza house in the town centre is already a firm favourite of M and C's. The décor is beautifully understated with its wooden floors, mirrored walls and open plan kitchen. No gargantuan pictures of luminous pizzas with their stringy mozzarella here.
The granite tables come with wine glasses as standard, the waiting staff are discreetly attentive and more mature than the pierced goths of Pizza Hut. And the food? It's very good. The pizzas are authentically Italian, the roast aubergine is highly recommended and, if you ask, you can get a bottle of garlic oil to drizzle over your dish for a garlic-tastic taste experience. The puddings are big enough for two to share, or, if you have a delicate post-pizza appetite, you can try Cat's favourite, a tiny but exquisite dish of sugared figs and marscapone with a cup of coffee.
The sophisticated surroundings, the drinks licence and the lack of cartoon character endorsement mean that this is a pizza parlour geared towards adults wishing to wine and dine in style.
19 comments (newest first)
Oh dear. They really have gone downhill fast again. Our last three visits were disasters. One night, party of five they knocked £85 off the bill - this was ALL the food. If more than a third full, they actually turn customers away. Must be the worst Pizza Express anywhere, incompetent service and chefs. Avoid.
After giving up on Pizza Express for two years due to poor service we tried again last Saturday. In a nutshell the service was good and attentive, the food good but a bit pricey,especially with Olivio’s just round the corner. Credit to whoever has turned things around there.
We had a diffent experience last week with regard to the staff…
visited on Friday lunchtime, party of 7, we announced (as instructed) on our arrival we were using reward vouchers from a major supermarket not cash (not that this should make any difference to the service or food provided) The romana pizza’s were huge and very tasty, the salads fresh and well assembled! Our waiter was attentive without being over the top, refilled water jug without being asked, then worked out the bill to give us optimum use of the vouchers (he could have taken a £10 voucher instead asked for 51p - leaving a £10 voucher to spend in the future) we left a tip in cash not a voucher :-)
We have been to Pizza Express several times and always enjoyed the food. Service has not always been outstanding but acceptable. However, on a visit last week, the service was dire. Inexperienced staff with uninterested attitude was the order of the day. I would love to spend a day there just there to teach them courtesy and basic customer service skills which will carry them through even if their waiting skills aren’t top notch because they are still in training.
I tried and tried this Pizza Express, it was always dire. Service awful, several times no ice - in a restaurant/bar? I even asked why they couldn’t just go and buy some from Morrisons - within sight of them? They looked perplexed. I even wrote to their HQ, so did other family members, we told them it Britain’s worst pizza express store. All we got in return were vouchers and assurances that it would get better. It didn’t. And then, because I love the food, I snuck back recently, and touch wood, it’s been great. No problems. I always go on a Wednesday, the service and food are first class and good value on Orange Wednesday. If you gave up on it ages ago, give it another go.
Thank you to Tim and his staff!!! Had a wonderful evening at your restaurant… Service and food excellent! Your reputation has excelled. Will be back soon.
I am surprised to read so many negative comments on this page. I have been eating at Pizza Express in Newport semi-regularly for the last three years (usually with my other half, often with various family members and friends) and have only once felt neglected. I’m always on quite a serious budget but the constant stream of special offers that I get emailed (I’m on the mailing list) makes eating there regularly a genuine and much appreciated possibility.
On a couple of occasions they had no dough available, which was of course a disappointment but there are lovely alternatives on the menu. On one notable occasion we were forgotten about for over an hour as the waiting staff changed shifts while we were there (we were eating at a very odd time of day), but when the staff realised their mistake we were immediately offered a free bottle of wine and extra money off our main courses, which for us more than made up for it. Sometimes things do go wrong in restaurants, but I don’t think that has to be a big problem as long as you are dealt with appropriately afterwards. To offset the lack of dough on those two occasions, on another two they had loads of ingredients that needed using, so were giving extras away for free to anyone who wanted them - fantastic. :-)
In my experience the food has always been delicious, and the staff are very accommodating if you’d like something extra, or something left off. The wine list is great, and the fresh mint tea afterwards is just the thing when you’ve eaten more than is sensible! They’re also very understanding if you want to drag the meal out over several hours (as my other half and I often do) - they keep coming back regularly to check whether we’re ready to order the next course but don’t seem irritated if we’re taking our time. We’ve never been rushed out, which is a problem in a lot of other restaurants. I’m practically salivating as I type this… Methinks I’ll have to pay another visit very soon! :-)
Have eaten here three times over the last six months but will not be rushing back. The service seems well meaning but there’s always something they get wrong. The first time I specifically asked for mushrooms to be omitted from a pasta dish, which they assured me they could do, but lo and behold they didn’t. The second time they asked us if we wanted the children’s starters to come as starters or with the mains, and they got that wrong too, so it’s just very frustrating. Both times they blamed their ordering system so clearly that needs to be sorted. I was also surprised when we ordered two of the child bolognese pastas and was told there was only one left. I asked why they couldn’t make another and they said it was pre-packaged so they knew exactly what was in it. Not great as I presumed chef was making it fresh. On the positive side, the pizza toppings are always tasty, it is generally a child-friendly restaurant, and the puddings are generously sized.
we went there last Wed. despite having booked table not ready. Was told to wxpect a 30min delay. We ordered wine that took 20mins to arrive, asked for some garlic bread and doughballs to stave off hu nger pangs, was told food all came together!!(why) Eventually food arrived after one hour 15mins wait, NOT acceptable, we only ordered salad for gods sake. Said salad was vile, dreched in a horrid dressing, it appeared to be a large plate of soggy soaked lettuce and very little else. Called manager, got usual waffle about busy orange weds, said he would take some money off bill, in fact he charged us the same amount we would have paid with the downloaded voucher we had, Have complained to head office, but suspect they will just offer us a free meal, and hell will freeze over before we return here!
I love Pizza Express, over the years I’ve eaten there hundreds of times and even offered to be an island franchisee some years before we got one. Sadly I long ago concluded the island’s Piz-ex is Britain’s worst! The food is fine, the service is diabolical. For a good six months they claimed their ice machine was broken. I wrote to head office and said it it were my restaurant I’d go and buy ice at nearby Morrison’s! On occassion I’ve been warned of a 60-90 minute delay on food. Let’s face it, pizza takes seconds to make and 3-5 minutes to cook. No excuses, this branch really is awful unless it’s almost empty. Even then I’ve had bad service! I try and eat my lovely Piz-ex pizza on the mainland these days and give ours a miss. Let me know if you think it has dramatically improved.
Matt and Cat respond: Hi David, thanks for your comment. We think that Pizza Express has finally upped its game after a long time in the poor service doldrums. There seem to be more staff and with the excellent Orange 241 offer it’s particularly good value on Wednesdays. Worth another try? Let us know what you think.
Ate there tonight after a visit to Cineworld to see Up (what a touching film), with Ian and our 7-year old son. Very prompt service, with perfectly-cooked pizzas arriving within 15 minutes of ordering. Had my long-standing favourite, the Fiorentina (with spinach, olives and an egg in the middle), while Milo ordered a children’s-size pizza with four-cheese topping (veering off the children’s menu), and Ian something meaty (forget the name). Found room for bannoffee pie, which was also pretty good, and a glass of fresh mint tea (literally, mint leaves steeped in hot water) to finish.
The only delay came (predictably) when we wanted to pay. It’s irritating to encounter bill lag, particularly when you’ve a child waiting to get home to bed. But aside from that, a very nice meal. The restaurant was about half-full, surprisingly for a Saturday; maybe the combination of X Factor and Halloween meant fewer people eating out.
Matt and Cat respond: Thanks for your comment, Wendy. We’re in the middle of updating our review of Pizza Express which is why it’s disappeared for a day or two. We’ll move your comment when the review’s back on-line.
We gave them a second chance but the service was really slow. Two waiters and two kitchen staff for a Saturday afternoon was just not enough. It will be a long time till we go again I am afraid!
im an ex employee at pizza express and i can assure you that the quality of ingredients are always the freshest and best quality, the problem lies with the new management, the place is understaffed and unmotivated!!! what a shame!!
I’m not sure this place hasn’t lost it’s edge over recent months. We’ve been there a few times and I think it’s moving towards more prepacked ingredients and less fresh whole foods. The cooks seems to assemble pizzas rather than make them from scratch. I know they’re chasing the pound and maybe this is the consequence?
I was disappointed to have to wait an hour and a half to get our main courses tonight. Yes, the food was a good as ever but it was so frustrating to see people arriving 30 minutes later than us getting served as we sat hungrily. My advice is to expect a long wait if you have a large group or if the place is busy.
Matt and Cat respond:Thanks for your comment, Ed. We’ve had pretty poor service there recently too. The venue is always packed which is great for their profits but can sometimes mean that the too few waiting staff are at capacity. We’ve given up going there as the service just too slow. It’s a shame, as we really liked the venue when it first opened.
Veggies are always well provisioned here. And, now dieters are too. A lovely scrummy plate of pizza all under 500 cals……Go for it
We went there during the Isle of Wight festival. Service was excellent and the pizzas were lovely. We were also entertained by a nice man doing card tricks at the tables and so hardly noticed the wait whilst our pizzas were freshly cooked. I really enjoyed the Romana base and the hot chocolate was gorgeous too. I was surprised and pleased that standards were kept up at what was an extremely busy time. There were wrist-banded revellers everywhere!
We headed to Pizza Express on Saturday for a meal with family and friends. I had a very flavoursome pizza pomodoro, which boasts four varieties of tomato on a large, very thin pizza base. We also liked the pepper with goats’ cheese which we had as a side order. The only disappointment - and I’ve found this before at Pizza Express - was salad. My daughter chose a large spinach and avocado salad as a mains. The spinach under the dressing was dry, bagged stuff and the avocado pretty meagre. As she’d chosen the “large” option, costing over £8, daughter was not too impressed. I shared my very large pizza with her! Salad aside, the
quality was consistent with other visits (ie good), and the service friendly and attentive.
For my young son’s birthday last week we decided to meet up with a couple of friends and their daughter at Pizza Express in Newport. It’s a while since I’ve eaten there (though I’ve always liked it), and I was pleased to see the menu has evolved: the range of Classic pizzas was huge, and they’ve introduced a Romano base pizza that’s bigger but thinner (therefore crispier). There were also a couple of new non-pizza meals that looked tempting. In the end I stuck to what I knew and had the classic Giardiniera pizza followed by Tiramisu - both very good.
A big bonus was that we found it even more child-friendly than before. Table activities included a colouring and puzzle book, and a set of little Snap cards, and there’s also a children’s book box in the restaurant. Plus there’s a proper children’s menu, featuring mini versions of the adult menu (I’m not sure when this was introduced, but it’s very welcome!). We had a proper family meal out where adults could chat, children were entertained and everyone liked their food. Thumbs up!