We have professed our love of Pizza Express before and strangely enough Abu Dhabi’s only branch at ‘The Hub’ in WTC Mall, was actually the first food review we did for the blog. Fast forward one year and we are back again. This time, to sample the latest menu offerings from an established brand that has been pleasing diners for 51 years, with over 650 stores in 17 worldwide destinations.
To us, Pizza Express is a staple of the UK high street and provides a sense of familiarity that reminds us of home (they are literally on every corner in London) and we’re not ashamed to admit that before this branch opened, there was an occasion when we drove all the way to Dubai’s Ibn Battuta, just for Pizza Express!
In the year since our last review, the restaurant changed very little and has now solved the licensing issues that plagued the initial opening period. It’s a great spot for lunch, dinner or drinks and the atmosphere is great, especially when ‘Uptown’ (the live jazz band), take to the stage at 7pm every night.
Pizza Express is popular due to its fresh food, which forgoes American style pizzas, for a more authentically Italian experience. Everything cooked in the Pizza Express kitchen revolves around the pizza oven, meaning no frying and absolutely no microwaves. The open kitchen provides not only insight into the pizza creation process but also a spot of entertaining dinner theatre.
Beginning on September 22nd, a new menu will launch to the public at all Pizza Express locations in the Emirates and comprises seven new menu items that have been specially created for the UAE market. We were lucky enough to join a chefs table event with a group of select media invitees and sample these new offerings, during a sneak peak earlier in the week.
The first of two new appetisers are the spicy chicken wings. An item that you would not normally associated with an Italian Pizzeria and one that has been added to the menu due to unprecedented demand. Now these chicken wings are not just any wings and forego the usual sticky honey glaze in favour of something much more refined and in keeping with the restaurants concept, much more Italian. These meaty wings are soaked in a marinade of rosemary, garlic, basil and chilli oil and really do have a kick to them. The garlic is the predominant flavour that comes through and is accentuated by fresh basil.
The addition of a crab flatbread to an already ‘dough-heavy’ menu is certainly a risky strategy but one that the creative team at Pizza Express have managed to implement successfully. Our table wholly agreed that this was probably our favourite dish because of its thin light dough and fresh combination of crab, cucumber, creme fraiche and dill. This is a moorish item that could well compete with the signature dough balls when it comes to starter preferences.
Three new main courses include a pizza, pasta and a salad dish. Not being big fans of salad we were actually really impressed by the ‘Superboost Salad‘ that can only really be described as summer in a bowl. Utilising many popular super-foods such as quinoa, lentils, pumpkin seeds and cranberries – this salad is more than just leaves. It’s colourful, tastes fantastic and will actually fill you up. Kudos to Pizza Express, who have showed us that salad and healthier options no longer have to be bland and unexciting.
A recurring theme running through these new dishes, certainly seemed to be the addition of a spicy kick and this is no truer than in the ‘Spaghetti Gamberoni Piccante.’ This makeover of the establishments popular gamberoni pasta, utilities bigger prawns in a creamy sauce, alongside broccoli, garlic and red chilli. Tweaking the original Pizza Express favourite to create a far more exciting interpretation of prawn pasta.
Seeing ‘Hawaiian Pizza‘ on the menu, our hearts sank. We are big lovers of fresh pineapple, but absolutely detest it cooked onto a pizza or preserved in a can. Pineapple should be sweet and juicy and combining it with cheese and tomato is something that does not work for us (don’t even get us started on the textural composition of cooked pineapple). The Hawaiian is an Americanised dish and one that is not at all in keeping with the brands Italian authenticity, yet the Hawaiian has been added to the menu due to numerous requests and features heavily in a new social media marketing campaign.
Thankfully the creative team were seemingly as resistant to the addition of a Hawaiian pizza to the menu and have put their own unique spin on the dish. The tomato base is slathered in a spiced pineapple chutney (so no chunks) that is not overly sweet and works more like the caramelised onion in the ‘Padana’ is terms of balancing sweet and savoury elements. For us, this is a Hawaiian that we would actually eat – which surprised us.
Of the two new desserts we really enjoyed the ‘Chocolate Torte Sundae‘ which is the perfect way to end a meal that will satisfy Italian food fans who crave something more that just the standard tiramisu. Mixing chunks of chocolate torte with vanilla gelato, smooth caramel sauce and crushed pistachio nuts. This was a firm favourite with the media in attendance and hailed as a resounding success.
The ‘Passion Fruit Mousse‘ is the lighter alternative and was slightly simple. The tangy taste of the yellow passion fruit works well with the lightly whipped cream and biscotti but failed to excite, its not a bad dish as such, just one that didn’t really gel with us. With any new menu, there will be items that hit and some that don’t but with everything else being so good, this minor mis-fire can be easily overlooked.
Feeling a little full and thinking that the meal was over. We were excited to discover that pizza making was part of the event. So with hands washed and aprons on, we began the fun and educational process of creating our own pizzas.
All pizzas bases at Pizza Express are formed by hand and attempting to do this yourself really does give you an appreciation of exactly what goes into the execution of these oven-baked goodies. Though there wasn’t time to make the actual dough or the sauce ourselves (the tomato sauce is a closely guarded secret anyway), we did have great fun with flaring, decorating and making a floury mess! Plus we were awarded ‘best base’ by the team of chefs, which has got to mean something right?
With new branches coming to Reem Mall, Dubai Mall Phase II and Ras Al Khaimah. Pizza Express is looking to firmly establish itself as a favourite on the family dining scene in the coming months. Let’s just say that it’s the same old Pizza Express but with a brand new menu and one that we are sure you will love.
We were invited to dine at Jazz @ Pizza Express. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.