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.