“ 2 Church Hill / Loughton / Essex / IG10 1LA / Tel: 0208 418 9489 / „
For those not familiar with this popular Pizza and Pasta chain, they have now quite an extensive number of branches around the country, and in my opinion, are one of the better chains of its type. I have eaten at a nearby branch in Loughton, Essex several times, most recently for a midweek meal with some friends which is the experience I am reviewing.
The restaurant is very spacious, with a large entrance area, we were greeted almost immediately by a waitress who was whizzing past, and told us she would be with us shortly. To one side are the chefs with a pizza oven in an open plan area of the kitchen (although I think there is probably a busier part round the back!), the rest is taken up with a bar/sofa area, and plenty of well spaced, good sized tables As the five of us stood huddled in an untidy bundle by the menus we were queue jumped by a couple, but our waitress was more alert than that and made a point of seating us first which I was impressed with. We were given a choice of non-smoking or smoking, and we sat in the non-smoking area. I didn't notice the smoke from the smoking area which was nice, our waitress brought us our menus, including the Specials menu and told us the soup of the day. Rather oddly the Specials menu was on the same pre-printed card as the regular menu, which made it somewhat less special! On previous visits there was normally a blackboard by the door with two or three dishes on it. The card had about four or five starters and mains on it, with two changeable dishes printed on business card sized pieces of card which slotted into this 'Special' menu. It looks like whatever is on 'special' has to be special for several months.
Our waitress took our drinks orders, although my request for "no lemon" in my drink got translated as "extra lemon", fortunately my friend's orange juice was a grateful recipient. We were also offered olives, which we declined.
It took a while for our orders to be taken, but this suited us, and our starters arrived fairly promptly. We had opted to share three portions of Bruschetta al Pomodoro which was toasted ciabatta topped with chopped yellow and red cherry tomatoes, garlic, basil and red onion with a balsamic drizzle. They were delicious and very fresh tasting. The menu offered a range of bruschetta or crostini type starters as well as garlic breads, and a few salad and pasta starters. The typical starter price was between £3.50-£4.50 and I would say for two generously topped bruschetta slices £3.65 was very reasonable and it was a good sized portion.
For my main course I ordered Pomodoro (tomato) pizza from the Specials menu, which came with mozzarella, red onion and spinach. It was absolutely huge (I would guess about 15-16" across), fresh and tasty, although the topping didn't quite go to the edges. My only other complaint is that the knives they give you are quite inadequate to cut the pizza unless you are prepared to risk it flying across the table. All pizzas and pasta dishes at our table were pronounced delicious and filling, and chicken risotto (served with prosciutto ham and mozzarella) was also a popular choice. Pizzas average about £7.75 in price and Pasta dishes about £8.45. Typical dishes include classics like Spaghetti Bolognese to Pappardelle Zafferano (crayfish and leeks with saffron and mushroom sauce). They also offer Calzone (folded pizzas), Lasagne and salads. The menu is very heavily pizza and pasta influenced, so you need to like these types of foods.
They have an extensive bar and wines are very reasonably priced starting at £11.95 per bottle for the house variety, going up £30 for champagne (although there were more expensive ones on the specials menu for some reason, I think this went up to £45). A bottle of Pinot Grigio will set you back £13.95 or £3.40 for a small glass.
There was a selection of desserts available from ice cream to tiramisu and something rich involving banana, chocolate and waffles that I was far to full to take in, let alone eat. We didn't partake of desserts this time, which are priced reasonably between £2.25 and £4.25. In the past I have forced down an ice cream which was more than sufficient for a lightweight like me. There also offer a selection of teas and coffees.
Mid week was a quiet night and we had no trouble being seated, although weekends are a different matter and I would advise booking, particularly if your local branch is quite small. Service was good, although not exceptional, it was a quiet night, yet we there did not seem to be many staff around and we did have to wait a while to flag someone down for extra drinks and the bill. Toilets (Ladies, at least) are modern and tidy, if rather hot due to the heat from the hand dryer. This branch has facilities for disabled diners, but that is probably worth checking with your local branch, as it may depend on the building it's in. Ours was in the building that was a former large pub, so there was plenty of space for any adaptations. The restaurant is family friendly with a number of high chairs available, but these are of the high wooden seat variety to allow the little person to reach the table, they don't come with a tray. They also cater for parties and have a Christmas Party menu available. Although the place itself may not have the greatest atmosphere, a lot of it is what you make of it, so if you are looking for an informal, good value meal with friends or family, I think you could do a lot worse.
In total our bill for three starters, five mains, a round and a half of drinks and 12% tip came to £16 per head which we agreed was very reasonable as we were rolled out of the restaurant .
I ate at the Loughton branch, 2 Church Hill, Loughton, Essex IG10 1LA. A full menu and a list of restaurant locations is available online at http://www.zizzi.co.uk/