Pizza Express is a brand synonymous with healthy fresh Italian food. But how does it translate across in the Middle East market? I have enjoyed eating at the restaurant several times at different locations and at different times of the day. The staff members are helpful but unobtrusive although, like most chain restaurants, they do push their beverages and desserts menus. Across the menu there is excellent consistency and the brand falls into the category of a reliable food option regardless of its location. However, the dishes are far from perfect and no matter the time of day I still have not successfully managed to order the polenta chips!
I have ordered the dough balls here in Doha and they come with the three usual dips of garlic butter, pesto and a spicy meat dip. As always the dough balls are addictive and makes for good eating when consumed hot. Not necessarily a cheap starter but still a best seller and irresistibly tasty. I have also tried the Melon Delight smoothie which was refreshing and really was a delight to the taste buds.
I have also tried the Sloppy Giuseppe Pizza, which comes in two styles – the normal pizza style, and the base with the salad on top known as the Leggera Sloppy Giuseppe. The pizza crust for both is crispy and light and both pizzas have a hot spiced beef, red onion and green pepper topping. The beef is presented in the form of small meatballs and individually it tastes flavoursome thanks to its spicing. The pizza can be a little chewy once it cools a little due to a combination of the mozzarella cheese and the dough. In the Leggera version the middle of the pizza has a hole in it which is filled with a simple salad with the house dressing. Although it is nice to have a salad with your pizza you do pay a few QR extra for the privilege – probably only for those who are looking for a healthier pizza option.
I have also enjoyed the Pollo Affumicato salad which was described as a smoked chicken, walnuts and pomegranate seed leafy salad. I really enjoyed the flavour profile of this dish and the dressing really helped to elevate the chicken. It is more a main dish than a side as the portion is generous and it does contain a lot of protein.
Because I was so impressed with this dish I decided to try another salad on my next visit. I tried the Nicoise Salad which is a popular dish at many eateries and I have tried many versions for this dish from different restaurants. I have to remove the tomatoes and potatoes but I still am able to enjoy the dish particularly as I enjoy the mix of tuna and olives. Pizza Express also provides warm dough sticks with this salad and it also comes with anchovies and capers. I enjoy salty pickled flavours and so this dish should have been a winner, however it was hugely disappointing. Like most other versions of the dish there are a few artistically placed string beans (here I counted four), which is quite frankly unnecessary pretentiousness. If a dish is described as having string beans in there then I want string beans – I don’t care for pretentious airs when it is at the sacrifice of the food.
I already have a reduced salad dish due to dietary restrictions so when no effort is made to give me a decent salad it does not impress me. Instead, what I have experienced a lot is the bulking up of my salads with even more leafy greens. The Pizza Express version is described as having a mixed leaf base for the salad. But what I experienced was just downright ridiculous with maybe 6 pieces of frankly disappointing leaves of lettuce and about two leaves of radicchio. The rest of my salad was composed of frisee endive – check out the pictures and you will see what I mean.
The frisee endive leaves do have a dominant bitter taste which ordinarily would be cut down by the tomatoes. But I had to have the tomatoes removed from the dish and rather than reduce the amount of frisee endive I seemed to have got a replicating leaf…seriously the deeper I dug into my salad the more I found – it was the Borg of all salads. So my salad was essentially a bed of frisee endive leaves (not the easiest leafy green to eat at the best of times) with a tuna topping. I just felt like I got the leftover leaves stuck at the bottom of the fridge salad drawer. Terrible showing from a usually reliable brand and it has definitely made me think twice about ordering salads from them in the future. The only redeeming feature was the dough sticks and if that was the only thing I was going to enjoy from the dish then quite frankly I should have just ordered some dough balls for half the price and left it at that.
Definitely a valuable lesson to be learnt here as a diner – my over-confidence in the brand consistency and ethos has been blown to little pretentiously-shaped smithereens.