Monday, 16 May 2011

Restaurant Review: Pizza Express
The Leggera Pizza… Holeyer Than Thou???

Few words strike fear into the hearts of calorie counters and weight watchers as comparably as the word ‘Pizza.’

With gargantuan amounts of melted mozzarella, fat laden meats, and bursting stuffed crusts, this iconic Italian staple is certainly no friend to those looking to shed a few pounds.

Of course over the years, the much loved pizza pie has been subjected to many a healthy living makeover. The more adventurous amongst us, will perhaps advocate tortilla based incarnations, topping deficit veggie delights, or even cheese free alternatives (which I personally feel should be criminalised.)

But whilst these innovations are all well and good in the comforts of the homestead, out and about in the real world, you’re as likely to find a pizzeria serving pitta bases, as you are flying pigs.

In light of this reality, the Scoffing Cow was shocked to learn in recent weeks, that a renowned restaurant chain specialising in Pizza had taken significant steps to appeal to the diet conscious proprietor. Indeed, the Pizza Express franchise, had not only become one of the country’s first few restaurants to publicize their nutritional values, but had also admirably launched a Weight Watchers endorsed range of pizzas; the Leggera. Better yet, there was no mention of eradicating the cheese!

Restaurant Review – Pizza Express - 24-26 Goose Gate, Nottingham - 0115 912 7888

I should probably have anticipated the shocked expression on my long suffering partner’s face last Thursday evening,, when I told him that I wanted to go out for Pizza.

After bringing him back to consciousness with copious amounts of smelling salts, and reassuring him that there was absolutely no catch (no polenta and blueberry crusts, no pumpkin volute) we gaily slapped on our glad rags, and trotted off into Nottingham’s city centre.
Situated in the ‘it’s so trendy cos it’s retro,’ localities of Hockley, Pizza Express on Goosegate literally sticks out like a shimmering neon thumb.
Sandwiched between vintage clothing boutiques, vinyl record stores, and a ridiculously large Sex Shop (whoops!) the restaurant itself forms part of an old town-house style building. From the outside, the room is as spacious and well lit as any other of its chain gang contemporaries, but from within, the sparse furnishings and uniquely high ceilings counter any warmth commonly associated with traditional pizzerias.

Once seated in the restaurant by a rather polite young waiter (whom Mr Cow was convinced sported a ‘fake’ Italian accent) we were liberated of our jackets, and presented with the menu.
After skimming the huge A3 sized card, (which I skilfully used to frustrate my partner’s extremely vocal objection to eating ‘healthy’ pizza) we placed our order with another sickeningly young and attractive, yet apathetic waitress, for both starters and mains from the Leggera range.
Since in my eyes, no meal is complete without wine, I pushed the boat out even further and ordered me and my sulking partner a bottle of the low cal red wine.

As our server moved off in sloth like fashion, we were presented with our drinks by the ‘pseudo Italian’, who had admirably taken the initiative to prepare our liquid refreshment whilst his colleague contemplated the meaning of life.
As I took a sip of wine, I remembered why I had avoided 'healthier' vino for such a long time; it’s repulsive.
Mr Cow assured me through gritted teeth, that we wouldn’t make this oversight for the third time.

After only a couple more minutes, the waitress reappeared with our starter.
‘Bread?’ she worryingly questioned as she dropped down the Crostini Al Pomadoro.
Hmmm, Ciabatta, santos tomatoes, garlic, rocket, grana padano and balsamic syrup. What an articulate and descriptive young lady, I thought, Pizza Express should hang on to this hard hitting saleswoman for sure.

Nonetheless, as we eagerly tucked in, I was pleasantly surprised. The tomatoes were fresh, and the ciabatta perfectly toasted. The parmesan, rocket and syrup combo added a subtle yet much needed sweetness to the dish, whilst providing an authentically rustic Italian bite.
Since we were sharing (much to my partner’s dismay) our starter had evaporated in seconds, yet despite this, it was adequate to keep the hunger pangs at bay for the next few minutes at least.

A short time passed, during which we occupied ourselves with providing a running commentary on the perplexed expressions our server continued to sport as she undoubtedly wished her night away (I was a student once, I know the look.)

Ten minutes or so later, our waitress returned, delivering my 500 calorie Contadina Leggera Pizza (Chicken, Spinach, Peppers, Mozzarella and Tabasco) to my placemat.
As we had already established through the accurate menu description (and of course I had already ascertained through Google) the Leggera Pizza is somewhat heartless. By this I do not make any aspersions as to the actual pizza itself, but am in fact referring to the fact that each is served sans centre. The Leggera is the pizza with a hole.

As I inspected my main course, the unavoidable sense of disappointment one feels upon ordering a coreless pizza was drastically alleviated.
A pleasantly sized green salad, surrounded by a heavily topped golden crust, took the place of the missing dough.
The pizza itself was sophistically presented, resting on a wooden board complete with miniature cutter.

After gleaming smugly at Mr Cow in the ‘I told you so manner’ I have refined so expertly, I immediately plunged my fork into the green salad and took a nibble. The fresh cherry tomatoes and light vinaigrette hustled between the mixed leafs set the Leggera off to a fantastic start. The flavours were distinguishable but not intrusive; not indicative of a desire to overcompensate for the lack of pizza, nor compete as the central component of the dish.

Cutting into the surrounding rim of heavily topped dough using my avant-garde and tres chic pizza cutter, I was again impressed with the offering.
The thin crust dough was flavoursome, springy and well… doughy; the spinach and peppers complemented each other nicely, and the chicken was soft, succulent and juicy.
The Tabasco gave the Contadina a powerful kick, without drowning out the accompanying ingredients, and as a spice junkie, worked to win over an exceedingly hard to please cow.

Meanwhile my previously reluctant partner inhaled his ‘Gustosa’ (Prosciutto cotto, portobello mushrooms, yellow peppers and thyme) with glee. His only complaint after finishing in well under 5 minutes flat, was of course, that there wasn’t enough. (Erh, men!)

With still room for more, we nodded eagerly for the dessert menu, and in keeping with the theme of the evening both ordered a ‘Sotto Zero,’ a low-fat frozen yoghurt with blackcurrants and a chocolate straw.

Upon arrival we once again tucked in, but in contrast to the previous two courses, felt relatively unmoved.
Yes, the portion was ample, but the yoghurt was far too brittle and lacked the prerequisite sweetness for a dessert. The ‘straw’ on the other hand was a big hit, and as per usual for a night out with the cows, caused contention due to my poor table etiquette and Monsieur Cow’s penchant for chocolate.

After a quick coffee, (and an awful mishap involving a misappropriated bottle of Tabasco) we journeyed back to our pasture for a night cap, feeling full, oddly virtuous, and undeniably holy (Get it? Snarf, Snarf!)

All in all, the Pizza Express Leggera range, gets the hoof’s up.

Perhaps a few tweaks are warranted in order to bring the drink and sweet selection up to the standard exhibited by the entrée’s, but hey, kudos for even attempting to revamp each course selection.

I’m still not a chain restaurant convert; the ambience was hardly that of a secluded and intimate evening (Yes, Yes, I know it’s just Pizza, but for gods sake, It’s Italian! ) and the service was far from enthusiastic.
Nonetheless, I will most definitely be returning to Pizza Express in the near future, if only to steal their miniature tabascos (That’s not a confession… honest.) and poke fun at the sleep walking waitress.

(For a full run down of the Legerra range, and accompanying nutritional value, visit the Pizza Express link by clicking here.)


Dotty said...

Haha, good review. Pretty fair description of the staff too!
I love the leggera range, but you definitely need the two or three courses to keep those pangs at bay ;-)

mahesh said...

Great explanation, thanks for the posting!
Pizza Equipment