I went through a spell recently of literally dashing from one blogging experience to the next. Probably my own fault for agreeing to too much, but hey, a leopard doesn’t change its spots and all that.
Amid this craziness, I popped into the newly-revamped Pizza Express in the Bullring in Birmingham with Laura from Full to the Brum to check out its new look and try a few of the new items on the menu. I couldn’t actually remember the last time I’d been in Pizza Express. There’s one in my home town of Rugby but weirdly we always end up going to the alternative choice of Prezzo and I’m not quite sure why. Having said that, since I tried the Birmingham branch of Pizza Express, we rectified that situation and have also eaten at the Rugby branch. Two fixes in a month!
The Bullring Pizza Express is pretty darn big. From its outdoor ‘terrace’ that aims to recreate that continental cafe culture feel, to its seating spread over two floors inside, plus some rather cute little balconies with views down to St Martin’s.
They’ve done the interior rather nicely, with booths and high-backed Queen Anne chairs making up some of the seating inside, as well as sociable round tables for bigger groups. So plenty of choice depending on whether you’re going for a hot date or a fun night out.
I may not have been to Pizza Express for a while but I’m glad to see that the dough balls haven’t gone anywhere. They’re a classic, and rather wonderfully simple but delicious. I’m happy to say Laura is a fan too, so we enjoyed snaffling a portion of these while we decided what else to have.
That was my dough fix for the night, because I couldn’t resist one of the new items on the menu that just so happened not to be a pizza. I’m often tempted by risotto, mainly because it feels slightly less naughty to me than a dough-laden treat, and the Risotto Fresco was just up my street. Salmon fillet in a creamy white wine risotto with Gran Milano cheese, chopped fresh tomato and red onion finished with a splash of chilli oil and lemon.
It was better than I’d hoped it would be. The ‘creamy white wine risotto’ wasn’t too creamy at all. In fact, rather than creaminess, I really enjoyed the freshness of the tomato and onion with the zing of chilli oil. Rather than one whole fillet, the salmon had been flaked into the risotto so each mouthful could yield a taste of rich smokiness.
While I was ooh’ing and aah’ing over my risotto, Laura had gone for another new item on the menu, the Hawaiian ‘PizzaExpress’ Romana. I’ve got to say, the ‘Hawaiian’ pizza has never sat too well with me, in the same way that I struggle with sweet and sour chicken. While sweet and savoury can work in some dishes, I just don’t see how pineapple belongs on a pizza or in a chicken dish. Maybe I’m a culinary heathen, or missing some delicate balance of tastes that a more refined palate than mine would notice. Who knows.
Pizza Express’s new Hawaiian isn’t quite as simple as your average ham and pineapple. The ‘ham’ is a salty prosciutto crudo, piled on a light base with red onion, garlic oil, Gran Milano cheese and mozzarella. The ‘pineapple’ isn’t simple chunks of the fruit but a pineapple chutney that Laura said worked brilliantly with the prosciutto. And just to add a bit of decadence, it’s on top of a white bechamel base. Definitely not your average ham and pineapple, and it got a big thumbs up from Laura.
I’m not always a dessert person (though it probably looks like it if you cast your eyes back through this blog) but I’m often tempted by places that offer a mini dessert with a coffee. It satisfies my sweet craving, without quite pushing the guilt-o-meter high enough to make me say no. A marketer’s dream, hey!
At Pizza Express, I was tempted by the ‘Caffe Reale’ – figs served in a cinnamon and white wine spiced syrup with a nice big blog of mascarpone. In a comedy choice that rendered any ideas of virtue utterly pointless, I teamed it with a Baileys Latte. Oh yes!
The dessert was simple but did the job. Sweet figs that always remind me of holiday, plump and moist with the taste of the syrup, and the rich creamy mascarpone that tempered the sickly sweetness of the rest of the dish.
Laura went for the Honeycomb Cream Slice – an indulgent mixture of cheesecake laced with honeycomb and chocolate pieces on top of a layer of salted caramel and crunchy biscuit base. She went for a scoop of one of Pizza Express’s tempting looking ice-creams and from what I saw, wasn’t at all disappointed with her choice.
Apart from the eating, we spent the evening having a long-overdue catchup, and Pizza Express provided a good backdrop for a relaxed evening chewing the fat (and the food ;-)) Our visit reminded me that for a relatively affordable place to enjoy simple, decent food, it shouldn’t necessarily be overlooked.
As I mentioned earlier, that reminder meant that a week or so later when we were looking for somewhere in Rugby for a quick bite, we tried Pizza Express. And again, we weren’t let down. Yes, if you want fine dining or avant-garde creations, you wouldn’t come here, but as chains go it’s not a bad one and always worth considering when you’re looking for that easy lunch or dinner option.
Laura and I dined for free at Pizza Express as she had been invited to check out the revamp and some of the new menu items.
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