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Dough, oh dear, a female's ear!!
Member Name: yabbadabbadoo
Date: 01/03/11, updated on 01/03/11 (331 review reads)
Advantages: Family friendly, great selection including healthy options
Disadvantages: Franchise chain, service can vary
Those of you following my recent reviews will no doubt be eagerly awaiting the final instalment of my kid's party trilogy. This time ,a family trip to Pizza Express to mark his 5th birthday.
The wife and I have fans of the Pizza Express franchise for a good 15 years or more, ever since we first discovered the welcome behind that mystical blue lighting back in Tunbridge Wells. We've visited a couple of dozen other restaurants since then stretching across the country from Newcastle to Newquay and I really can't recall any bad experiences amongst them.
So, somewhat handily given the names I picked out, this just happens to be a review of the Newark branch of the Pizza Express family.
Down by the Riverside...........
In keeping with so many of the other restaurants up and down the country, the setting has its own unique character. Situated right on the banks of the river Trent, it features a panoramic surround look out tower, complete with spirally staircase. Sitting up stairs in this section always feels like a bit of a treat. One of the most interesting aspects of the dining experience is the effect of the circular glass surrounds.
If you've ever visited the Whispering Gallery at St Paul's Cathedral you'll already know what I mean. Suffice to say that if you value a very private conversational dining experience, probably best to bear in mind that news travels very fast between those sitting nearest the windows!
The tried and trusted favourites
Now, in our household, as I'm sure is the case with many of you out there, rather like the way a successful football team has its spine of key players, there are certain dishes that are always first down on our team menu sheet.
Dough balls all round is a given. So simple, so crispy, so tasty - perfect.
For Grannie, the lasagne always gets top billing - not too big a portion - delicious sauce. For me, I can't contemplate an Italian meal without a giant wedge of cream and sponge coffee coated indulgence known as Tiramisu. Overall with so many varied and interesting Pizza and pasta combinations on offer, even the fussiest of consumers should be satisfied here - and all very reasonably priced typically in the £7-12 range for mains.
All well and good Paul I hear you cry, but what about us poor souls trying to keep the calorie intake under control.
As it happens, having chanced upon a timely article in Mens Health magazine I have some good news on that front. They came up with the 3 healthiest dishes they could find on the menu. From the starters they chose Crostini al Pomodoro - delicious Bruschetta Bread, tomatoes and garlic- coming in at under 200 calories - and just in case you are a weight watcher follower - that translates to roughly 2.5 pro points.
For me , the real bonus ball is in the main courses. There is a whole raft of Pizza toppings available in the Legerra format for only 500 calories (14-16 pro points), which is basically a Pizza with a hole in it stuffed with spinach and salad. They come attractively served up on a flexible chopping board style base - its part meal, part work of art.
Into the tricky dessert zone, the Sotto Zero is the option to go for - low fat frozen blackcurrant yoghurt in a Sundae style, with a couple of wafer thin chocolate sticks to boot for only 110 calories, bringing the grand total to sub 800. Apparently the Volcano pizza alone is 1100 calories, so you can see the benefit of choosing wisely here.
One other point worthy of note is that you can also get mini puddings or "Dolcetti" to go with your coffee - perfect for a little end of meal treat without stretching the gut beyond its natural limits!
For us, I think the real clincher with Pizza Express, is how good they are in our experience, at providing for young children. The Piccolo menu offers a full set of dishes from Doughballs (also available with nutella dip nowadays) to chocolate sundaes, even rounding off with a cappuccino style frothy milk for the sophisticated little souls. There's always a mini activity set and crayons, catering for a range of different ages.
But if you want an example of really going the extra mile, then look no further than our little man's birthday celebration. There we were, sat downstairs, just across the way from where the two chaps were happily preparing the dishes.
Now one of these particular gents, had his own unique style of preparing the pizza bases. Every couple of minutes or so, he would throw these huge flattened circles of dough up into the air, catching them effortlessly with all the style of a seasoned Cocktail bartender. As you can imagine, during the course of the evening, this became a source of particular fascination for our little one.
The very smiley chap in question, seemed to really enjoy having the extra mini audience, so much so that during a very brief pause in operations, he came out from behind the counter to chat to our highly excitable young observer. In his hand he held out a tiny patty of dough and asked if as a very special birthday treat whether he would like to have a go.
No second invitation needed. Enthusiasm abounding, our miniature dough flinger was very quickly into the swing of things. In the meantime the other chef decided that he needed a proper Pizza Express chef's hat to mark the occasion and duly crowned our little sunshine.
Alas, just as a new career was beckoning, little fella over reached his capabilities, with an extra high throw, that flew over our table, and managed to lightly graze past the left ear of the lady on the table behind us. Fortunately she took it all in good spirits, and our little dough machine duly agreed to step down while he was still at the top of his game...
I appreciate that everyone's dining expectations are different, and with any franchise, the quality of service will inevitably vary, but it certainly seems to me that Pizza Express on the whole have a very good formula that appeals to a very wide range of people.
I believe there's even a club you can join, with discounts on offer to loyal members and I genuinely admire the forward thinking and positive approach of the chain, always looking for new ways to improve service.
And as for our little boy - he's most definitely a fan for life now!!
Summary: Coming soon to a cinema near you - The Dough Ball kid and the legend of legerra!