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Restaurant Review: Pizza Express and Francesco Mazzei’s "collaboration" with them

Pizza Express. Hmmm. Now I have reviewed a lot of pizza places recently and have found them all somewhat lacking. From Franco Manca in Brixton (here) to Pizza East (here) and Storey Deli (here) over in Shoreditch they are all a bit… well… disappointing. London as yet doesn’t seem to have a trace of the pizza greatness that resides in NY or Italy. Even Turkey’s pizza equivalent – lahmacun – is better served in this country in Green Lanes.
Now I know that another blogger – Young and Foodish (blog here) – has started a laudable project to educate people about good pizza in London but I have a slight suspicion that any pizza in London can only offer attempt and edifice. That said I have to disclaim I haven’t been to one of his #PizzaTuesday nights and am super keen to try his recommendation of Datte Foco (as it does look rather good) but I otherwise remain sceptical that London can offer anything substantive in the worldwide pizza stakes. It just doesn’t have the heritage you can find in Italy or the artisan and competitive passion you can find in NY.
So when I went to Pizza Express what did I expect? Quite honestly not much. I am a big fan of Francesco Mazzei’s L’Anima (glimpse of it here) and enjoyed a pizza I had there. Still a collaboration between Francesco Mazzei and Pizza Express, was that ever going to revolutionise my opinion of Pizza Express? No.
I am afraid this is a not a story of low expectations and unexpected results.  We went to Pizza Express.  We tried Francesco Mazzei’s Pizza Calabrese and Pizza Bianca and they were fine.  They were Pizza Express pizzas with new toppings.  Still this is also not a story of horror or surprise.  I went to Pizza Express and I got what I paid for.  I can’t complain that it wasn’t cooked in special handbuilt pizza ovens with bricks flown in from Italy and that it wasn’t wood fired as this isn’t what they sell. What Pizza Express sell is fast efficient consistent food and that is what we got.  To say I was horrified by the food is a bit like going to McDonalds and asking why they don’t use wagyu beef.

Should have gone to L’Anima though… or back to my friend’s place in Tuscany and had more fun with his wood fired pizza oven (picture above).

  • Price – £15 a head

PS we went to the branch in Holborn but that doesn’t really matter does it?

8 Comments

  1. Mr Noodles

    The base is a bit crap but the toppings are above par with these new pizzas. Mind you given the price, I'd rather eat somewhere else.

  2. London Chow

    No it doesn't (oh, that's the answer to your final question!).

    For some reason, Pizza Express is popular with the people at my office. Whenever there's a birthday celebration, it's always pizzas and they are invariably from you know where.

    But like you said, we go in with our eyes open. :)

  3. catty

    You don't rate Pizza East? Everyone raves about it but I haven't had the chance to go yet. My pizza standards are pretty low.. I love the sloppy giuseppi at Pizza Express ;)

  4. Jen

    I think we both know who makes the best pizza in London. :)

  5. Tom

    Jen – most definitely not you. I am actually going to learn to make pizza just to do it better.

    Mr Noodles – my pizza bianca was the standard base with new toppings. And you are right the toppings are a little bit better and if I felt like an easy no problem supper I would go again without shame. That said from the pictures of Francesco's starters I would give those a miss as they look like a mess.

    London Chow – haha, no it really doesn't matter with pizza express. I suppose that is one of their attractions to most people and why I haven't been to one for about 7 years.

    Catty – Pizza East is fairly ok. I end up going once every couple of weeks. It is efficient and the toppings are a bit interesting. I kind of don't see it as a serious pizza place and just a place for some good bad food (which is no bad thing!)

  6. Kang

    My experience with Pizza is limited. I've really only read about the pizzas in NY (Blumental's In Search of Perfection is the reference) and am always interested in wanting to make a trip to sample the real deal. As I understand it, the secret is in how hot a woodfire oven can get to get the pizza base crusty on the outside yet doughy on the inside, and that commercial ovens do not achieve high enough temperatures to make 'perfect' pizzas and this is the reason why pizza in London isn't as amazing… so I read.

    Personally, the best pizzas I've had (in London) are at Franco Manca's and Donna Magherita, but again I don't have a benchmark to compare this against, so I dont really know where it stands in terms of authenticity and quality.

    Anyway, coming back to Pizza Express, this is abit of trivia, the original Pizza Express recipe is based on a recipe created by Da Mario which is an Italian restaurant in gloucester road. If you try the Da Mario pizzas, you'll notice similarities with the express based, albeit it tastes better. Also, they do a Pizza Diana on the weekends as apparently, Princess Di used to come here alot… it's about a 5 minute walk from Kensington palace.

    Thanks for this review, it was enlightening reading your thoughts on pizza. I will pop over to L'Anima to give their pizzas a try too, and probably a trip to Italy to try the real thing too.

  7. Tom

    For some reason this comment didn't show up until now even though you made it ages og…

    Anyway – I think you are exactly right on wood fired ovens. A friend has one in Italy and it gets to a heat you can't get in London. The other thing is that the smell and taste of smoke and charcol which builds up on the stone base of the oven give it something you can't get elsewhere. It is the difference between cooking a burger on a grill outdoors or in a frying pan indoors.

    PS – you will have to come round and try Jen's pizzas. She is getting obsessive on trying to get them right in a domestic oven.

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