One drizzly Newport afternoon, post-cinema, we wandered into town with dinner in mind. Passing Thompson’s we paused, as ever, and pondered the alluring bill of fare outside. Was this the day that the £24 two-course set menu was going to draw us in? Apparently not. The siren of Pizza Express was calling, and so on we ambled, until we found ourselves seated comfortably at a table, contemplating the art of the pizzaiolo.
When Pizza Express first opened its doors on the Isle of Wight we had a rather harsh nickname for it in the local vernacular – Pizza Somewhen. Back then pizza was indeed on offer, but at express speeds? Not even close. We’re pleased to confirm that those days are long gone. Service in this branch of the nationwide chain is now well up to par for speed, and comfortably cruising ahead when it comes to courteous geniality.
We made a start by sharing an unexpectedly generous bruschetta, piled high with a salsa of fresh tomato, onion and basil, and a huge dollop of aromatic pesto. We eagerly tore at the fresh, hot pillowy dough. There were none of those brittle dry crunchy fragments of toast here; this bruschetta was soft, oily and moreish.
Pizza was next, for Matt at least. His Pizza Express fave has the enticing name of Sloppy Giuseppe. Disregarding the unlikely backstory that some marketing genius created for this moniker, the bottom line is that this is in essence chilli con carne on a pizza, and yes, it’s pretty sloppy. That’s all positive as far as Matt’s concerned. He ate it with pleasure.
Cat took aim at a broad bean rigatoni dish, and was satisfied by the substantial plateful of steaming pasta that was her main course. Suffused with a creamy white wine sauce and tangy cheese, this was a dish that proved that meat-free and gluten-free didn’t have to mean hair-shirt-wearing evangelical-animal-rights-campaigning taste-free. Like her favourite dish at Prego, the sublime gnocchi verdi, this broad bean and spinach-topped pasta sparked with flavour; from the nutty ewes-milk Pecorino to the herby pesto it was a dish to be reckoned with. A substantial portion too, which defeated Cat, proving that the vegetarian option needn’t mean half measures.
Matt was delighted when the waiter deftly upsold Cat some polenta chips. There was no way she was going to manage all those, and then he could manfully rise to the occasion. As predicted, Cat made little to no impression on the side dish, which inexplicably came with a pot of honey and mustard salad dressing. Matt snapped them up. They were hot, crispy and delicious.
Sloppy Giuseppe pizza £11.50
Bean rigatoni £11.25
Polenta chips £4.25
Caffe reale £4.95
Mint tea £1.95
Thatchers cider £5.35
Apple juice £2.30
Cat has been known to drive across the Island for pudding at Pizza Express, and one particular dessert too: caffe reale. This well-matched combo of a hot drink served with a tiny dish of preserved figs and mascarpone feeds a hunger that Cat really can’t assuage anywhere else. She’s made a reasonable facsimile of the spicy syrupy fruit at home, but you just can’t simulate the Pizza Express recipe. This little gem is up there with her top five dishes ever. Rejecting the waiter’s attempts to get her to have the honeycomb cream slice, she savoured each little fig as she sipped her decaf Americano. Matt, replete with polenta and sloppy chilli pizza, was content with a fresh mint tea – always an Instagram-friendly brew.
Time for the bill, and a sharp intake of breath. For two and-a-half courses, a side dish, drinks and a well-earned tip we paid over £50. Suddenly the prospect of two courses of Robert Thompson’s came back into sharp focus. We could have dined there for a comparable price. Had we really walked past a supper in that awesome venue just to enjoy broad beans and figs? So it would seem. We’ve got no regrets, because Pizza Express was a very good dinner. However, next time we’re thinking of a fast bite at some chain eatery we might just do the sums beforehand.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Delicious freshly-cooked dishes
- Friendly, express service
- Tasty meat-free option
- Although the mains seems reasonable, the chips and cider were premium priced