Time for a Calzone Verdure

Celebrating a birthday we headed for Pizza Express at Cribbs Causeway. We had booked in advance, which was a good thing, as the place was busy, buzzing and full of people. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions we had to wear masks in the restaurant when we weren’t sitting at the table.

Virtually all the Pizza Express restaurants have their own character, this is certainly the case with the Cribbs Causeway branch. It has a Banksy feel with stencil graffiti on the walls in a Banksy style.

We had a nice warm welcome and were shown to our table. Though we could have looked at the menu online on our phones, we did ask for physical menus.

I ordered a Peroni Libera, Peroni’s non-alcoholic lager, as I was wanting something that wasn’t a soft drink, but as I was driving I didn’t want alcohol. I don’t mind non-alcoholic lagers, however I wasn’t a fan of this one. There was something that wasn’t quite right, and compared to other non-alcoholic lagers I have had it wasn’t as tasty.

For my starter I chose the calamari. These were breaded squid rings served with a Caesar dressing, lemon and parsley. I think I should have remembered my experience from last year. 

I thought it was okay, but I was a little disappointed. 

It was a similar experience this time.

Again I thought it was just okay, but I was a also a little disappointed. The squid was tender, the coating crunchy, but I am not sure it was what I wanted from a dish of calamari. The thing was looking at the other starters there wasn’t much I liked from the menu, so defaulting to the squid.

For my main course I was tempted by the Fiorentina pizza I have had before, but thinking I always have that, lets try something different I did like the sound of the Calzone Verdure. The menu describes this as roasted peppers and aubergine with spinach, smoky tomato harissa, hot chilli, tomato with garlic and topped with rosemary and served with salad and balsamic dressing.

So I decided to go with that.

I really quite liked the calzone. The dough was delicious and tasty. The filling was a lot spicer than I was anticipating, but I think that’s because I didn’t read the description properly and missed the mention of hot chilli. So probably a little too spicy for me, but the filling was very tasty and full of flavour.

What I didn’t realise was that this was a vegan dish, well not that was an issue, this was a very tasty calzone pizza and I really enjoyed it.

Pizza Express in Weston-super-Mare to close

The Weston-super-Mare branch of Pizza Express is to close down, under three years since it opened. It is one of seventy-three restaurants that the chain is closing.

The chain, which at the moment has 454 outlets across the UK, said it had cut a deal to reduce rent costs. It blamed the loss of income doe to Covid-19 and that these restaurants were no longer sustainable.

Though other restaurants opened in July, it was noticeable that Pizza Express didn’t and even with the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme starting on the 1st August, I noticed that many Pizza Express branches weren’t opening until the 13th August or later, losing the opportunity to get some additional sales in with the scheme. It was noticeable in Weston that all the restaurants in Dolphin Square are still closed despite the scheme.

Pizza Express was the third restaurant to open in Dolphin Square in November 2017, after Luda the bingo cafe and Nando’s. We’ve already lost Luda and T-Bone, and not all the spaces have been filled anyhow. Obviously the pandemic isn’t helping with the situation, but Nandos and Prezzo are still closed despite the Eat Out scheme being in operation. Loco Mexicano appears to be moving to the seafront, will they have two branches open in Weston, that appears to be unlikely as they are literally just metres apart!

I do think the Dolphin Square development will struggle in the future and I am not sure there is anything the council can do about it as well. It looks like

As for that branch of Pizza Express in Weston, I think I may have eaten their just twice. Once for a quick lunch (with a special offer from Three) and once for a family meal.

Given the choice we usually opted for the Prezzo as it had more choices on the menu and not just pizza. Having said that we’ve eaten at a fair few Pizza Expres

Time to enjoy the meal please…

Pizza Express at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol

I haven’t been to Pizza Express at Cribbs Causeway for a while now, I think it was for my birthday last year following a game of bowling.

Okay having checked my blog, yes it was last year…

Time for a pizza and some antipasto

With just the three of us, and having just visited the cinema we ventured in, having booked a table earlier that evening. That made sense as the place was quite busy and we were given a nice booth.

One of the features of Pizza Express is that they individualise their restaurants depending on location. The Weston-super-Mare branch for example has beach huts. Pizza Express at Cribbs Causeway has a number of Banksy inspired graffiti executed in his distinctive stencilling technique. I don’t think they are painted by him though.

Taking the time to peruse the menu I was tempted to have a salad, but in the end decided to go with the pizza option.

I was tempted by the Calabrese, which I have had before, but decided to try the new Funghi di Bosco. This pizza comes with portobello mushroom, tomato, mozzarella, rosemary and garlic oil, finished with fresh parsley and shaved Gran Milano cheese on a Romana base.

I was warned that despite no mention of this on the menu description, the tomato sauce that they use on this pizza was quite spicy, nice of them to warn me, but I decided to go down that road.

Before the pizza arrived we shared a portion of Calamari, described as lightly-crumbed, crispy calamari rings served with Çaesar dressing, a wedge of lemon and fresh parsley.

The squid was quite tender, even if the crumb wasn’t that crunchy. I thought it was okay, but I was a little disappointed. Regular readers of the blog will know that I find the way in which a restaurant serves squid or calamari, is a good way to compare or benchmark across various restaurants.

The pizza arrived and it was large, the Romana base, is stretched out and as a result is thin and crispy. I do quite like this kind of base.

Funghi di Bosco. This pizza comes with portobello mushroom, tomato, mozzarella, rosemary and garlic oil, finished with fresh parsley and shaved Gran Milano cheese on a Romana base.

I found the pizza delicious and tasty. There was plenty of mushrooms and they had a nice mushroom flavour, it was the reason I chose this pizza more than any other reason.

Our table also saw the Leggera Superfood Salad, a mix of black rice, edamame beans, red quinoa, mung beans, chickpeas, cranberries, pumpkin seeds and kale in a vinaigrette, on a bed of mixed leaves, rocket, cucumber, roasted peppers, red onion and fresh parsley with our light house dressing.

Leggera Superfood Salad, a mix of black rice, edamame beans, red quinoa, mung beans, chickpeas, cranberries, pumpkin seeds and kale in a vinaigrette, on a bed of mixed leaves, rocket, cucumber, roasted peppers, red onion and fresh parsley with our light house dressing.

This was delicious and fresh.

Another member of our party had the Fiorentina pizza on a classic base. This has spinach, free-range egg, mozzarella, tomato, garlic oil and black olives, finished with Gran Milano cheese. Apart from the olives, it was eaten with gusto and pronounced scrummy.

iorentina pizza on a classic base. This has spinach, free-range egg, mozzarella, tomato, garlic oil and black olives, finished with Gran Milano cheese.

Overall we were well pleased with the food, which was fresh, hot and tasty.

As for the service… well that’s a slightly different matter. To start off booking the table and the welcome we received was excellent. It was warm and friendly and we were made to feel right at home.

Alas our drinks order was incorrect and we had to send it back, even though I think it was a genuine mistake down to a noisy busy restaurant.

We had one big concern, the jug of tap water we were given without asking, was a nice touch. What did concern us was the huge crack in the glass jug which was leaking water. We were worried that the jug would break apart… We got a replacement, and an apology. That jug also had a crack, not as big, but still….

Our starter of calamari arrived promptly and we enjoyed eating it, but we hadn’t even finished our final mouthful when our pizzas arrived. I do like a bit of a gap between the starter and the main, and prefer not to have them on top of each other. We have gone out to eat and when going out it’s not just about the food, it’s the whole experience.

We hadn’t even finished our mains when we got asked a couple of times if we had finished. Rushing people isn’t needed (there were a fair few empty tables) and it can ruin what is actually a quite nice experience otherwise.

Overall not as good service as it could have been, the staff were certainly friendly, helpful and polite, but the service felt somewhat rushed and disorganised. When you get asked a few times if you want desert, you know that something is amiss.

Having said that we did really enjoy the food and overall the whole experience was good. Would we go again? Yes we would.

Yes, it was okay

Staying up in Ealing for a couple of nights on our second night we went to Pizza Express, in the main as they do a very nice gluten-free pizza and the other places we liked the sound of, didn’t have a strong or varied gluten-free menu. Well to be honest the little one who is on a gluten-free diet wanted pizza, so pizza it was.

Though it was Friday evening and we hadn’t booked the place did have space for us and we were given a warm welcome. Compared to other Pizza Express establishments, this was rather crowded and cramped, but we weren’t elbowing each other, so was okay.

I did consider going with the pasta, but from the menu it sounded like everything was cooked in the pizza oven, al forno, anyhow, so I went with the pizza.

I ordered the Quattro Carni Pizza. Finocchiona, Coppa, Milano salami, pancetta, tomato and buffalo mozzarella, finished with rocket and shaved Gran Milano cheese on a Romana base.

Quattro Carni Pizza. Finocchiona, Coppa, Milano salami, pancetta, tomato and buffalo mozzarella, finished with rocket and shaved Gran Milano cheese on a Romana base.

The food arrived quite promptly and I loved the fresh rocket and Gran Milano cheese on top of my pizza. I did think the pizza was a little over-cooked for my liking which meant it was difficult to discern the four different meats on the pizza, but there were some good flavours in there. The rocket and cheese on top added some nice freshness and bite to what otherwise could have been a somewhat salty pizza.

The service was excellent, and made what was otherwise an okay pizza experience, into a good pizza experience.

Time for a pizza and some antipasto

I don’t always get my first choice when looking for somewhere to eat as a family, even when it’s my birthday. It’s not that I like different places, a member of the family has a gluten-free diet and despite the wider choice you have these days, it’s not always about the choices. So after a game of bowling we ventured off to Pizza Express.

I do quite like how the different branches of Pizza Express reflect their locality. The Pizza Express at Southampton has a ocean liner styling, whilst the one up at Cribbs Causeway has a lot of Banksy style artwork up on the walls.

Though it was a Friday night, and we had booked, the place wasn’t too busy. I wonder if it’s busier during lunchtimes, because of the shopping.

As it was my birthday I decided to start with the sharing antipasto platter.

antipasto

On the menu this is described as containing a selection of Italian meats: Finocchiona, Coppa, Milano salami and Calabrese sausage, with olives, artichoke, roasted tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, sweet Peppadew peppers and dough baked with Gran Milano cheese, accompanied by garlic butter and pestorissa, a harissa spiced tomato dip.

We went with the bigger sharing platter and that was just about right for five (combined with some gluten free dough balls). Okay if you are really greedy then you might want to order two of them. The salami was nice and fresh. Sometimes with these kinds of things, they are prepared so far in advance that the salami has dried out. The bread was interesting, but tasty. It could have done with some more artichoke, there were just two pieces.

For my main course I went with the Campana on a thin crusty Romana base. On top was crumbled pork & fennel sausage, friarielli, tomato, garlic oil and mozzarella, finished with Gran Milano cheese and parsley on a Romana base.

This was an enjoyable tasty pizza. I think it could have done with a little more friarielli. Friarielli or rapini is sometimes referred to as broccoli, but is actually a kind of turnip greens. Quite tasty.

Overall it was a really nice meal and I did enjoy it.

Spicy

After going to watch a film at the cinema for a birthday treat (not my birthday) we decided to follow up with a meal at the local Pizza Express.

They have created an interesting environment for the Pizza Express at Cribbs Causeway, with a lot of Banksy’esque style artwork on the walls.

I have had some excellent pizza at Pizza Express and was looking forward to another one. Perusing the menu I reminded myself that I should choose one that I hadn’t had before. I have been trying, when going out to eat, to not have what I have had before.

In the end I went with the Calabrese, this is described in the menu as fiery, soft ‘nduja sausage and spicy Calabrese sausage D.O.P with fresh red chilli, Roquito peppers, roasted red and yellow peppers, mozzarella and tomato, finished with light mozzarella, rocket, pesto and Gran Milano cheese.

pizza fiery, soft ‘nduja sausage and spicy Calabrese sausage D.O.P with fresh red chilli, Roquito peppers, roasted red and yellow peppers, mozzarella and tomato, finished with light mozzarella, rocket, pesto and Gran Milano cheese

I really liked this pizza, nice base and a great mix of spicy toppings. This was quite a spicy pizza, so don’t get it if you don’t like spicy.

We also had some great service, so overall a really nice meal out.

You need more staff…

I like great service, actually I almost expect great service. Generally most people do not go out to a restaurant to eat, they go for the whole experience. The welcome, the opening drink, the perusal of the menu, the choosing, the ordering, the anticipation, the actual eating, the reflection and leaving the table, knowing you don’t need to do the washing up. It’s the atmosphere, the furniture, the music, or no music, the ambience. A good restaurant will try and ensure that the whole experience is just right, and good customer service, is critical for a positive dining experience.

Down in London for a short break, we went to Pizza Express in Kingston, in the Rotunda. Though they said the air-conditioning was broken, it wasn’t that hot, so it didn’t appear that was going to be an issue.

Looking over the menu I decided upon the Toscana Romana Pizza, which is described as having a bigger, thinner, crispier pizza, topped with crumbled chilli & fennel sausage, mozzarella and tomato finished with baby mozzarella, Gran Moravia cheese, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil.

Toscana Pizza

Though on my pizza I got slices of sausage rather than crumbled sausage and I think the pizza works better for it. The Toscana Pizza was delicious and I really enjoyed it.

My wife went with the Leggera Superfood Salad, this is made with baby spinach and seasonal mixed leaves, roasted butternut squash, beetroot, light baby mozzarella, avocado, pine kernels, cucumber, lentils and fresh basil, finished with balsamic syrup.

Superfoods Salad

She really enjoyed it, she though was disappointed that it had no seafood in it! Always read the menu carefully.

Unfortunately, a lack of staff meant for me that the dining experience, specifically the service, was not as good as the pizza. We had to wait long amounts of time between getting the menu, placing our food order, ordering additional drinks and getting the bill. One of the results of the lengthy service delays was in the end we decided not to have pudding.

I don’t mind slow service sometimes, it’s nice to take your time and not be rushed, however, I do find there is a difference between slow and indifferent, which appeared to be the issue here. Too often we were ignored even though we had indicated or even said we wanted some attention. I got the feeling that this was down to a lack of staff, who were probably too rushed and forgot about the key elements of good customer service.

The food was great, just a pity about the service.

Mount Etna

Etna Pizza

At a recent lunch at PizzaExpress I shared the Antipasto starter (£9.90). This is a really nice platter of cured Italian meats with large green Sicilian olives, roasted tomatoes, baby mozzarella, sweet peppadew peppers and rocket with warm dough sticks.

Antipasto

This is a generous platter of antipasto. Very nice and fresh, though the peppadew peppers are quite hot and spicy. I really do like a good antipasto to start a meal off, the combination of flavours and textures is what makes it for me. With a dish like this it is too easy to prepare it all in advance and as a result it dries out. This platter though was fresh and felt like it had just been prepared fresh to order. The mozzarella for example looked and tasted like it had just been cut into slices. The cured italian meats, through probably pre-sliced, certainly hadn’t been left in the fridge for hours uncovered to dry out.

For my main course I chose the Etna pizza (£11.90). This was one of their Romana Pizzas, with hot soft n’duja sausage, roquito peppers, speck ham, mozzarella, tomato and grana padano. I do like the pizza from Pizza Express, they certainly taste a lot more authentic than pizza I have had elsewhere. Authentic as in Italian, a lot of pizza places have, what I would call, American style pizza and this is different to the pizza you can eat in Italy. The name Etna was certainly an indicator that this was a hot and spicy pizza. It wasn’t as spicy as you would think, so in my opinion was really nice.

Overall I enjoyed the starter and the pizza. It was probably a lot more than I would usually spend for lunch, but this wasn’t a usual lunch break.

Giardiniera

Of all the pizza places available, the one I go to most has to be Pizza Express. I do enjoy their pizzas and the atmosphere (depending on where and when you go) is nice. I’ve generally had excellent service too, which is always a plus and is one of the reasons I make return visits.

On my latest visit there for lunch… well another reason I quite like Pizza Express is that they do Tesco Clubcard Deals, so I can get a meal for “free”, which means I can justify lunch there now and again. As I was saying, on my latest visit there for lunch I went for their classic Giardiniera pizza. It comes with artichokes, mushrooms, red peppers, santos tomatoes, courgettes, olives, garlic oil, tomato & pesto base.

The pizza base was good, tasted fresh, was crusty on the outside and soft inside. There was a decent amount of toppings without going over the top. There is a (and is it a small) window between not enough toppings on a pizza and too much. The topping shouldn’t overpower the pizza and as a result turn the pizza into a plate for toppings, whereas the actual pizza itself is the important part of eating pizza. The toppings are there to enhance and add a little something to the pizza eating experience, they are not the reason for eating pizza in itself.

Another reason that I like Pizza Express, it still has that Italian feel to the place, you don’t get “stuffed crusts” and all that, you get at other places I could mention.

I suppose my only criticism of the place is that I feel the starters could be better.

Overall I enjoyed my pizza, it was enjoyable and the service was excellent.

Four Seasons

On a recent visit to Pizza Express (had some Tesco vouchers to use up) I chose for my starter, the Bruschetta Salami, for my main course I went for the Four Seasons pizza.

Four different quarters: mushrooms, pepperoni, anchovies & capers, mozzarella, finished with olives.

As is usually the case with Pizza Express the base was thin, in the Italian style and generous toppings without too much cheese. I really enjoyed the different toppings, but had forgotten how salty anchovies can be, but enjoyed that quarter. The sliced big field mushrooms worked well, as did the mozzarella. I thought the pepperoni was a little too thin, so was crispier than I liked, but had a good flavour and not too much heat. The olives finished it off.

I do like the pizza at Pizza Express and compared to other pizza chains, it is a much tastier and more authentic experience.