Friday, 12 June 2015

Express Yourself

I have news.  Big news.
L has set her wedding date.
Pizza Express now have fresh buffalo mozzarella.
Well, it would be rude not to give it a go.  Especially when my sister is in town and we have vouchers...
Being awkward buggers, we both placed our orders but requested numerous alterations, making my La Reine and Jo's La Regina similar in more than name, with ham, artichokes, fresh buffalo mozzarella and Romana bases the order of the day.  And, you know what?

They weren't half bad.  Okay, so not on a par with Fratelli La Buffala or Santores, but pretty good.  For a chain restaurant in Kings Cross, anyway.  In fact, guys, tweak your base and you're on to a winner.
6.5 out of 10.  Or maybe even 7...

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

East is West

"Shelly.  There's something I need to tell you."
I knew from the way her tone changed that what L had to say was of great importance.  I glanced around.
"We're having to push our date back.  There's just no venues available this year."
I felt myself relax.  The mission was still on - but I had another year to make a success of it.
"Oh, okay.  Well, I'll keep looking."
"Good."  She replied.  And looked me in the eye.  "It gives you more time to find what we need."
I swallowed.  I knew what she was saying.  The goalposts for Operation:Pizza had moved, and the pressure had, if anything, increased.  Yes, I had more time... but that meant that anything less than perfection was just not an option.

Three weeks later I found myself at Pizza East in West London.  It was so far up the Portobello Road I thought I must have walked past it, but then spotted its sign at the end of a red-walled housing estate.  The welcome was warm, and the interior cosy - perfect for a winter's night out.  My friend and I sat down and scoured the menu.  We were both ravenous, so quickly ordered some croquettes, almonds and olives to nibble on as we got down to the serious business of choosing our pizza.  Recommendations were made, but I settled on the spicy sausage and broccoli combo - with, of course, a request for fresh buffalo mozzarella.

The starters certainly didn't disappoint, and the alcohol-free (alas, it was still Dry January) elderflower, cucumber and soda drink I ordered quenched my thirst very pleasantly.  But how would the main attraction hold up?

I didn't have to wait long to find out.  The spicy sausage was the star.  "Spicy" struck me as a very lazy way of describing the delicately-flavoured pork, but it was certainly very tasty.  In fact, it out-shone the rest of the pizza, making the other flavours, if anything, a bit bland.  And the cheese?  I'm not convinced it was the real deal.

But, you know what?  Pizza East was certainly a great venue, and the retro pop kept me and my chum very happy.  So happy we decided to stay for ice cream.  Chocolate ice cream, in a sugar cone.  And let me tell you, if this was Operation:Ice, this place would have been a main contender.

But this isn't Operation:Ice.  It's Operation:Pizza.  And the pizza didn't quite cut the mustard.  Or, rather, the mozzarella. 

7.5 out of ten.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Simply the best?

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself stood on Tottenham Court Road, my hands wrapped around of cup of tea as a fine drizzle slowly soaked me to my core.  In front of me, a queue of tourists and Londoners alike shivered along with me.  Behind, more and more people joined our plight.  What was I doing? you may ask?  Waiting for the bus?  Marching for some worthy cause?  Queuing to grab a bargain at some hip store's sale?  Oh no.  I was waiting for pizza.  At Franco Manca.

Laura no likey...

It probably took us the best part of 45 minutes to get our foot in the door and our bums at a table.  But we got there and, after a brief deliberation over the minimal menu, ordered our pizzas.  I'd perused the list of extra toppings and was disappointed to see fresh buffalo mozzarella was absent, but decided to go with an artichoke and ham combo.  It arrived.  I inhaled and, without further ado, tucked in...

Franco Manca, with its USP of sourdough bases, is considered by many to be the best of the best.  My verdict?  It isn't.  The base was a bit tough and the toppings left it a bit dry - which is more than I can say for my fine self after standing in that queue for so long.  Don't get me wrong, it was okay... but I've had better.  A lot better.  And, what was even more annoying was, as we waited for the bill, I heard someone order that elusive fresh buffalo mozzarella.  And get it.  A school girl error, I know, which means only one thing... I have to go back.
6.5 out of 10

Friday, 23 January 2015

Express Delivery

I'm excited.  Very excited.  Tomorrow I am going to what many consider the Holy Grail of Pizzerias - Franco Mancha.  Friends rave about the sourdough bases and fresh toppings, and I've been trying to get there for months.  I am licking my lips in anticipation.

Whilst many Londoners rave about FM, one out of towner's suggestion for this blog was Pizza Express.  I suspect that L will choke on her Sauvignon Blanc as she reads this, but all's fair in love and pizza.  Besides, like Strada, they offered me a free bottle of bubbly for my birthday...

I went to the original Soho branch to carry out my assessment, figuring that if any were going to have fresh buffalo mozzarella, it would be the flagship.  The waitress seemed surprised when I asked.

"Of course!"  she enthused before sashaying off to fetch our Prosecco.  Sadly, when my Giardiniera arrived, it became clear that she was mistaken.  And whilst the combination of artichokes, mushrooms, peppers, santos tomatoes, leeks, olives and garlic was okay, the base was, well, basic.

Oh well.  At least we got free booze...

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Word on the strada

I remember the first time I went to Strada - and it was with L.  We were both new to London and happened across the Camden branch.  Back then the garlic and rosemary bread was complimentary and the food was - well, we were rather impressed.
Since then I have eaten at various Stradas many times - and, sadly, I have to say, it never lived up to that first impression.  The pizza base lost it's crispiness, the restaurants stopped looking so new and the bread - well, they started charging for it.  But, I'm a fair person, and when I recently ate there with my parents, I decided I should do so with a critical eye.

I was pleased to see that the Holborn branch had reintroduced it's old menu, getting rid of the apparently Italian burgers (yes, really!) and bringing back my personal favourite, the Rustica pizza, with Italian sausage, artichokes, capers, caramelised onions and sun-dried tomatoes.  What pleased me even more was the confirmation their pizza oven was wood fired, and, upon my request, the provision of fresh buffalo mozzarella.  But the icing on the cake?  A free bottle of Prosecco.  You see, Strada also send me lots of special offers, including a bottle of bubbly on my birthday.  Sweeet....
Anyway, enough about such cheap ploys - what I was interested in was the pizza.
You know what?  It was pretty damn good.  In fact, it rivalled those I'd eaten at Fratelli la Bufala and Papagones - perhaps even Santore.  Then there's the central location, the reasonable price and the free booze.  Interesting.  Very interesting...
But was it a fluke?  Well, it has to be said that it was the best pizza I'd had at the chain for quite a while, so it could well be.  Or maybe Strada have upped their game?  To be honest, I don't know.  But I know how I can find out.  Now where did I put those vouchers...
I'm feeling generous.  8 out of ten.