A place that is called PizzaExpress and is also described as a fine dining restaurant piques one’s interest. We weren’t sure what to expect, but peppy interiors, exotic toppings and a noisy family crowd figured in our imagination. In reality, PizzaExpress is more ‘fine dining’ than ‘express’ – it’s very far from the quick service restaurant that the name implies.
A full-scale plush dining space complete with a wine cellar, PizzaExpress, we discovered, makes some of the best thin-crust pizzas in town outside five-star hotels. How it manages to do is the USP, as PizzaExpress doesn’t have a wood-fired oven on site. It gets its dough pre-packed, and then this dough is unpacked and prepared for the pizza at a precise temperature, which ensures that the pizza base is exactly as crisp as it would be in a wood-fired oven.
The restaurant takes pride in the authenticity of its pizzas, which are Italian rather than American in flavour, texture and toppings. Beyond this core attraction, the menu has some nice starters and salads, of which the crisp, cheese-filled dough balls came to us highly recommended and justifiably so. These excellent starters also come in a double portion, served with three dips: pesto, pesto rosso and garlic butter. Polpette (chicken meatballs in Bolognese sauce with fresh parsley) was the other starter we chose. Both of these dishes were served in generous portions and struck the right balance of flavours. The goat’s cheese salad was a meal in itself, with the perfect mix of leafy greens, vegetables and fresh cheese. These are not difficult dishes to get right normally, but at Pizza Express they were done to perfection, and with a series of them arriving at our table one by one, we sat in happy anticipation of the main course, the pizza.
Though we said before that the pizza menu is essentially Italian, two American favourites have been included, both of them spicy pizzas with pepperoni and mozzarella toppings, with additional jalapenos or hot green chillies, if you want the ‘American hot’. We skipped those and went for three pizzas: pomodoro pesto (marinated cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, pesto, mozzarella, garlic oil); pollo ad astra (grilled chicken, mozzarella, sweet peppers, cajun spices, garlic oil, red onions); and calabrese (spicy sausage, red chillies, jalapenos, bell peppers, mozzarella, pesto, emilgrana). The crust was exactly as thin and crisp as we had been promised. Again, the combination of toppings and flavours were perfect in all the pizzas. The calabrese deserves a special mention – it declares itself to be the ‘hottest pizza’ on the menu, and that’s exactly what it is. Each bite of the pizza gave us a stinging spicy jolt, in a very good way. Anyone complaining about European food being bland? Not after this.
The pizzaiolos at PizzaExpress recommend certain dishes, which are marked on the menu. Trusting their choices, we found that we were in good hands. They are treated as something of stars here, amusing young guests with their flourish at the open kitchen, their larger-than-life image a part of the decor.
Now the last test of a top restaurant is in the desserts, as you know. The PizzaExpress banoffee pie couldn’t quite beat Delhi’s best – we won’t say which one – but the cheesecake was a champion. We haven’t had cheesecake this good anywhere else. Every crumb was polished off, with cravings left for more. We gotta come back.
Cost for two: Rs 1,500 plus taxes without alcohol
Address: Third floor, Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, Tel: 011-40870796/797; website: http://www.pizzaexpress.in/our-restaurants.html