With over 400 restaurants throughout the UK, Pizza Express is one of the biggest Italian restaurant chains I can think of, alongside Pizza Hut, Bella Italia, and Prezzo.
Strangely enough, though, I’ve never actually visited Pizza Express until recently. For me, pizza is usually something I eat at home as a takeaway meal, rather than in a restaurant. When I go to a restaurant, I want to eat something with a bit of sophistication and creativity – and pizza doesn’t usually fit the bill.
However, upon reading the Pizza Express menu I was pleasantly surprised to find an extensive variety of pizzas on offer, with a variety of bases and toppings – not just your usual margherita, ham and pineapple and BBQ chicken. Alongside the Classic options, the pizza range includes the Romana – a thinner, crispier pizza inspired by Rome, the Romana 65’s – laden with buffalo mozzarella, and the Leggera – a ring of Romana pizza with a salad at the centre for a healthier choice.
Keen to taste one of these pizzas for myself, I visited Pizza Express on Cardiff High Street last week with a friend. The restaurant is fairly large, with wooden tables and chairs for dining at the front…
… accompanied by purple-themed dining area at the rear of the restaurant. I assume this is used when the restaurant gets very busy or for large groups and parties, as it wasn’t in use on the evening we visited and the tables can seat more people.
Upon arrival, we received a warm, friendly welcome from our waitress and we were kindly escorted to a table next to the open-plan kitchen.
This was the ideal spot to sit in the restaurant, as it meant that we could watch the chefs at work in the kitchen.
I’m getting hungry just looking at these photos…
Our waitress, Valentina was very knowledgeable about the different options on the menu and she was happy to share her recommendations with us as well. As we pondered the menu she kindly offered us some nuts to share – an offer we were more than happy to take her up on!
Listed as Noci (£2.75) under Intros on the menu, these nuts were a combination of salty cashews, almonds and crunchy coated chickpeas. With a subtle smoky taste, they were great for nibbling on as we decided what to order.
To start, I eventually chose the Bruschetta Con Funghi (£4.95), consisting of chestnut and closed cup mushrooms and red onions in a béchamel sauce, on a soft bed of classic dough, finished with balsamic syrup and freshly chopped parsley.
I was absolutely delighted with my choice. The dough was incredibly fresh, while the béchamel sauce tasted absolutely delicious, especially when soaked into the bread. At £4.95, the value for money was great.
Being a big fan of risotto but not wanting to order it for his main course, my friend opted for the Risotto Fresco (£5.45) to start. Served as a small portion of oak-roasted salmon risotto flavoured with creamy white wine, garlic and fresh parsley sauce, served with fresh rocket and finished with Gran Padano cheese and a wedge of lemon.
This was very appealing to look at and my guest really enjoyed it, although personally risotto would be too heavy for me to order as a starter – I’d never get through my main course!
After much deliberation, I eventually settled for the La Regina pizza (£12.50) from the Romana 65’s range for my main course. I was genuinely surprised at how big this was; it came right over the edge of my plate. The La Regina consisted of a thin and crispy béchamel base laden with ham hock, chestnut mushroom, buffalo mozzarella, garlic oil and black olives and finished with black pepper, parsley and black truffle oil.
As you can see, it looked just as amazing as it sounds. It tasted even better. The saltiness of the ham hock contrasted beautifully with the creaminess of the buffalo mozzarella. Meanwhile, the pizza wasn’t excessively filling because although it was so big, the base was pretty thin. I still had to leave one slice, though!
Fancying something spicier, my friend ordered the American Hottest (£12.80) – a sizzling combination of pepperoni, hot green and roquito peppers, fresh red chilli, spicy hot soft ‘nduja sausage, tomato and buffalo mozzarella, finished with torn buffalo mozzarella, fresh parsley and chilli oil.
I tried a slice of the American Hottest and it was fairly spicy, but the creamy buffalo mozzarella helped to offset the heat. That said, I don’t think I could eat a whole one – although being a lover of all things spicy, my guest said he could have handled it being a bit hotter. Perhaps there should be an option to make your pizza extra hot if you want to – as I don’t think this would be to everyone’s tastes!
To accompany our pizzas (not that we really needed it!), we ordered a side of Caesar salad (£4.75), consisting of Cos lettuce, Gran Milano cheese, anchovies, croutons and Caesar dressing, finished with freshly ground black pepper. This was one of the tastiest Caesar salads I’ve had in a while. I’ve never actually tried anchovies in a Caesar salad before, but they worked so well, I think I’ll be adding them in a lot more in future!
In addition, we ordered a side of Broccolini (£3.45) – a simple yet irrestible dish of steamed broccoli flavoured with garlic butter and chilli flakes, and finished with Gran Milano cheese.
After we’d finished eating our pizzas and sides I was feeling pretty full up, but the dessert menu just looked so tempting. I decided to order some ice cream, telling myself it was one of the lighter options on the dessert menu. I went for the Raspberry Ripple Primo Gelato (£4.45), two scoops of clotted cream gelato with a swirl of raspberry coulis, shortbread and meringue pieces, finished with an Italian wafer.
The gelato was creamy and smooth, while the raspberry coulis gave it a pleasantly sweet taste. However, the shortbread and the meringue pieces were so small that I could barely detect them.
On the waiter’s recommendation, my friend chose the Honeycomb Cream Slice (£5.35) for dessert. This was similar to a cheesecake, with a crunchy biscuit base layered with salted caramel, topped with light cream and finished with honeycomb and chocolate pieces. The dish was decorated with lashings of cocolate sauce and a halved strawberry, with a dollop of mascarpone cheese on the side.
This looked fantastic and after hearing my friend rant on about how good it was, I think it’s safe to say I know what I’ll be ordering for dessert next time I visit Pizza Express.
My first visit to Pizza Express was near flawless. I was particularly impressed by the friendly, attentive waiting service and the different ranges of pizzas on offer, many of which featured toppings that aren’t available from pizza restaurants and takeaways I’ve ordered from previously. Even better, the value for money was great; starters, sides and desserts for around £5 each and no main course above £12.80. Something tells me this won’t be the last time I visit…
29-32 High Street
(029) 2023 3091
I was invited to Pizza Express as a guest and our food and drinks were provided complimentary; however, I was not obliged to write a positive review.