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Address: 59 George Street / Oxford OX1 2BE / Tel: 01865 202 993

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      30.06.2011 11:32
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      A quality Italian restaurant in the heart of Oxford.

      What to do on a wet Bank Holiday Monday? My husband fancied a look in the world famous Ashmoleum and Pitt Rivers museums in Oxford and my daughter, with birthday money burning a hole in her pocket, was keen to look in Primark, so a trip into Oxford was planned. My contribution toward this outing was to hunt on the internet to see what vouchers I could find for a meal out. I found an offer that would enable us to buy one main meal and a second for a pound in Zizzi. One voucher would allow us to do this in multiple pairs so for the four of us we would only need to pay full price for two meals plus an extra two pounds. (If you google Zizzi vouchers you will be led to a site where you can very quickly enter a few details and will then be instantly sent an E mail to authorise and print the voucher). I had never eaten in a Zizzi restaurant before but my eldest daughter had rated another branch well after eating out with friends, so the decision was made that Zizzi it would be.

      Zizzi is an Italian chain of restaurants that opened its first restaurant in 1999 and now has over 100 branches all over the country. The Oxford branch is easy to find being located in George Street, also home of the New Theatre, Odeon Cinema and Old Fire Station, a popular venue in Oxford. Being in the heart of the city it is also ideally located to combine with a shopping trip or the museums as we did. The Worcester Street open air car park and the Gloucester Green underground car park are just a few minutes walk away, but all parking in Oxford is phenomenally expensive, so using the 300 Park and Ride bus from Redbridge which stops right outside may be a cheaper option, or indeed the bus station itself is only a 2 minute walk away.

      So having got ourselves there, laden with dripping umbrellas and rain coats we were immediately welcomed by a friendly waitress who asked about our table requirements and said she would prepare a table for us. She didn't point out the coat and umbrella racks to us, but these were obviously situated and we were able to disarray ourselves of all of our wet gear. After about a ten minute wait we were shown to a very pleasant table. I didn't mind the wait as we could see that people were beginning to leave and we knew it wouldn't be long. There was also a book shelf to browse full of novels that kept me busy. Having looked on the website I now see that had I have taken in an old book I could have swapped it for a glass of wine and that they then operate a book loan system in recognition of 'Oxford's rich literary and educational history'. I thought that this was a lovely touch and will remember this on future trips into the city.

      The thing that made this meal particularly enjoyable for me was the friendly and unhurried ambience combined with the tasteful interior decoration. The whole atmosphere was one of relaxation and creativity. My napkin had the following quotation by Frank Lloyd Wright printed on it "Dining is and always was a great artistic opportunity". I felt that this summed up my culinary experience in this restaurant extremely well. That, and the quality of the napkin itself - no cheap paper one here, this was a real thick luxurious feeling napkin.

      The restaurant is divided into three sections. Glass doors lead to the central entry level with a full height glass partition preventing draughts being experienced by guests sitting near to the door. From here a short flight of steps leads up to a staggered second tier with beautiful hanging lights creating a feature in these changes of level. We were seated at this level and our table was quite near to the open cooking area. It was fun to watch one of the chefs as he placed the pizzas into the traditional large open oven. The lower ground floor is reserved for functions and this looked like a great area if you were booking for a party of people, although all guests are required to walk through this area to use the toilets. At this point it's probably worth mentioning that the black and white tiled bathrooms were clean and presentable, with just one area of peeled paint in the ladies where I guess a poster had once resided. A disabled toilet and baby change facilities are located at street level and a key is required from staff to use these.

      Back to our table then. The solid wood ultra modern table was spotlessly clean and the use of a sanitiser cleaning spray was very much in evidence. I sat on a mushroom coloured upholstered bench seat and at the other side of the table were white wooden chairs. Condiments and bottles of olive oil and chilli sauce were on the table along with the aforesaid luxury napkins and cutlery with Zizzi embossed on them. Some tables were in booths allowing for greater privacy and some were modern metal tables with purple wooden chairs. The lighting was good and the walls painted in plain white. One entire wall was covered in a variety of plain coloured plates and at another wall a whole large recess was filled with sawn logs showing end on. At first I thought that these were large posters, but on tactile inspection I realised that they were for real. All in all the decor gelled really well together and it felt like a comfortable relaxing place to eat.

      Onto the food then as this is what you probably want to know about. The waitress guided us briefly through the menu and we perused and ultimately came up with dough sticks for starters, a Clarissa calzone (folded pizza looking somewhat like a Cornish pasty) for me and classic pizzas for the rest of the family - Diavola, Sofia and Fiorentina with two side salads. My calzone also came with a rocket and tomato salad. I enjoyed this far more than the separate side salad as the Insalata Misti salads that we had chosen had way too much olive oil on for my liking and we actually didn't end up eating much of them. The calzone was tasty though, although had less filling in than others that I have had in restaurants such as Prezzo and it did all seem quite well cooked and maybe a little mushy and I couldn't really pick out the separate tastes of the pine nuts, aubergine, olives and rocket which was a little disappointing. The family all enjoyed their pizzas although both my 12 and 16 year olds were defeated by the size of theirs. They appeared to have plenty of filling on them and I'm told that they were as tasty as those they have eaten in Prezzo or Pizza Express. My husband was undefeated by his Diavola, but he did turn a deep puce colour as he tried to cope with the fiery nature of it, so I wouldn't recommend this unless you really do love hot food.

      The dough sticks need mention on their own, not so much purely for their taste, although these and the garlic dip were delicious, but for their presentation. They came served on long segments of polished tree trunks as platters. These looked so effective and we also watched other starters served on these; it offers so much scope for unusual shapes and sizes of bread and dough products. Our other food was served on simple white plates and these as well as the glasses were spotlessly clean.

      Our meal struck me as being superb value especially with the vouchers, but I would eat here again even if I had to pay full price. Each of our main courses cost £8 or £9 pounds and with a beer and three soft drinks our bill came to £39 reduced form £56. We did choose some of the cheapest meals on the menu and would have loved to have tried some of the delicious sounding puddings, but we were way too full. The menu also includes starters such as such as calamari or bruchetta at about £5. For main course the choices range from salads through to rustic or classic pizzas, risottos, pasta, al forno and carne e pesce. Side orders are available too such as the salads at £3 each and then of course the deserts which sounded absolutely mouth watering and a bit different to the normal run of the mill puddings - the Panettone al forno would have been for me - bread pudding baked in egg custard and brown sugar - next time I'm going back just for puddings! These are priced at about £5 and there is also a 'bambino' menu for the little ones costing £6.50 for nibbles , a main course and a desert.

      59 George Street, Oxford OX1 2BE
      01865 202993
      Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday - 12pm - 11pm
      Sunday 12pm - 10.30pm

      Summary: A quality Italian restaurant in the heart of Oxford.

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