I first visited a Pizza Express in 1995. I was on a training course in Marlow, Bucks, and my car had just exploded, so I felt like I deserved a little treat for myself. (Actually, it was only the exhaust that detonated. It blew a hole in our bank balance all the same, though.) Since then, I’ve been to branches in London, Edinburgh and Perth, and every time the experience has been consistently good.
This evening, we were in Perth to pick up my mum’s car (which we’re borrowing while my parents are off on holiday), and we decided to grab a bite to eat while there. The Perth Pizza Express is, like many others, a converted bank branch. Bank branches seem to have the right kind of space that Pizza Express restaurants go for: light, bright and airy, with tall ceilings, and all the acoustic subtlety of a tube station. Wee baby Alex stayed asleep for most of the meal, but when he woke up, his yells echoed through the restaurant like a yodeling constest in the back of a Ford Transit.
The food was good, though. Between the four of us we ordered two portions of garlic bread, and a portion of dough balls with garlic butter. At £1.45, each order is fairly inexpensive, but I’ve always found the portions a little stingy. The garlic bread is a single chunk of golden brown baked pizza dough, glistening with melted garlic butter. Very tasty, but one is rarely enough. On the other hand, massive all-you-can-eat platters don’t really fit in with the restaurant’s stylish modern demeanour. On yet another hand (er…), no-one is going to stop you from ordering more than one portion.
When it comes to choosing pizza, I’m pretty unadventurous. I like pepperonis and chillies, so the American Hot (£6.70) is usually the one I go for. Pizza Express’s pizzas are about nine inches across, and are made in the traditional Italian style: a thin base, topped with a relatively plain, un-herby tomato sauce, with thin slices of mozzarella draped on top and melted in place. This way, the cheese doesn’t end up spread evenly over the surface, so you end up with more varied bites. Personally, I prefer this to American style pizzas, where the base and crust are generally thicker, and each bite tends to be more uniform.
Although the American Hot pizza is loaded with sliced green jalopeno peppers, the flavours of the tomato sauce and the mozzarella cheese still come through clearly. I think this is the main reason I like Pizza Express: the ingredients they use are clearly of a very high quality. The tomato sauce is fresh and tangy, the cheese has just the right stringy texture, and the pepperoni sausage is recognizably meaty instead of greasy and bloated with generic spices. I’m a big fan of pizza, and this one ranks very highly on my list of all time greats.
If you’re not a pizza lover, there are a small number of other items on the menu, like cannelloni, lasagne, and melanzane parmigiana. This is a bit like lasagne, but with the strips of pasta replaced by slices of aubergine. Snoogums and my mother both had this. I tried a bite, and while it wasn’t as dark, rich, greasy and overcooked as it I like it, it was sweet and tasty nevertheless.
On this occasion we didn’t have wine, but from previous visits I remember the house red and white as both being nice and slurpable. Likewise, the desserts are all fun and unobjectionably sweet (the tiramisu is particularly good, though). But the name of the restaurant really spells out what they’re best at: pizza. They have branches all over Britain, and if you fancy something a bit more adventurous and a little less bland than your local Pizza Hut, try Pizza Express instead. You won’t be disappointed.