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SM reviews… Pizza Express Leadenhall Market

Editor writes: “As I’ve reviewed Pizza Express a couple of times now, these days the powers that be are making me sing for my supper. And by ‘sing’ I mean actually make my own pizza. 

This time I was invited to the newly renovated Leadenhall Market restaurant; in the grand London space which dates back to the 14th century and was formerly a butchery and cheese market. The Pizza Express was formerly a poultry trader’s site and still boasts the original meat hooks within the external facade. 

From street level, it looks like a tiny, intimate cafe. The kind of place you’d go on a second date. You can chat, but the huge glass windows mean that you could gesticulate to the outside world if said date suddenly started talking about his rodent collection. 

Downstairs, however, is a different proposition. A capacious lair, with exposed brickwork and leather banquettes. The sort of place where what goes on remains unspoken (indeed, the chap sporting antlers at his office Xmas do on the adjacent table probably hopes as much!)

I’ll begin by mentioning Pizza Express’ Xmas menu. If you’ve waited for their annual Nutella doughball treat in the same manner as pressing your nose against the window of Starbucks until the Red Cups return – well – there ain’t no Nutella this year. Instead, there are Snowball Doughballs (see what they’ve done there?). Icing sugar, vanilla goo… Let’s not think about the calories (we’ll be wearing an oversized festive knit til January, right?)

There are also some notable festive pizzas; Maple Glazed Gammon, Beef and Horseradish, the ‘so wrong it’s right’ Potato and Fontal cheese one with bechamel sauce and roasted spuds. 

But as I mentioned before, I had to make my own.  And because I had experienced a Pizza Express Make-Your-Own-Pizza party before, I really thought I had this one locked down. So – when they mentioned there would be awards at the end (as well as the reward of scoffing down your creation) I decided to step up my game. 

Ball of dough: I will be your master. I will knead you and stretch you and then spin you around like the smart-ass chef demonstrating the technique. Oh yes, I will. 

So when the chef came ’round with the baking trays to place the dough into, he completely burst my bubble of smug by handing me another ball of dough and suggested I start again. 

Quite literally, DOH!

Attempt #2 was apparently a bit more presentable. It was at least spherical. Seemingly I’d left the edges too sticky to bake – the chef just gave me a wry look, whisked the pan off to the kitchen and returned with a vastly improved version which I obviously passed off as my own work. 

Next up comes the passata and the toppings. The same supplier has made the tomato paste for Pizza Express since its Wardour St beginnings; maybe they are very loyal, maybe it is the most epic passata in the world. 

You are allowed to freestyle your toppings at a Pizza Making party – with the exception of an egg, which needs to added last, under supervision and with a fair bit of hand washing. They will tell you that ‘less is more’ because you want the crust to bake evenly. Pah, what do they know? All those years of pizza excellence are nothing compared to me: who has done it TWICE!

Peppers and pickles, chilli oil, jalapenos… Cheese, more cheese. Some olives for luck. 

Kindly, at these events, they lay on some starters to share. So even if you fail with your main course, you’ll have had some doughballs, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic bread. Oh, and prosecco. 

I won’t lie; my pizza was very hot. I never learn. I see chillis, I think they are a good idea. The crust was impeccable though 😉

After dinner, a glass of wine and complimentary Limoncello; the prizes. I didn’t come last, I didn’t come first. They gave me the sympathy prize merit certificate for the best try with the dough. 

And you betcha I’ve spent all morning online shopping for a frame.”

Book a Pizza Making party for grown-ups or kids at any Pizza Express restaurant here. (BTW, if you’ve forgotten to send a gift to someone, you can ping a Pizza Express voucher direct to their phone – click here to find out more)

SM would like to thank the staff at Pizza Express Leadenhall Market for their hospitality. 


SM reviews… Pizza Express Vegan Pizza Making Party

Pizza Express launched their vegan menu back in June – since then they have had over 200,000 orders. The menu – which was a few years in the making, mostly down to sourcing the right kind of cheese, was created by Pizza’s Express’ team of chefs with both taste and nutrition in mind.

a humble ball of dough…

You may or may not be aware that Pizza Express offers ‘pizza making parties’ as an alternative to – well, ya know – sitting there and getting a waiter to bring your food over as you plough through the prosecco. So – we made some vegan pizzas!

Our evening began with some nibbles and delicious organic wine from their wine list. I’m a sucker for olives and sundried tomatoes, but we were also served plates of their trademark doughballs without the garlic butter you might associate them with, but instead with olive oil/balsamic and a tomato tapenade, which made them taste positively guilt free!

Next step; we were presented with aprons, hats and balls of dough. Alex, the chipper chef (who has obviously done this a few times before) gave his dough a few nimble-fingered prods before tossing it in the air, spinning it, deftly catching and laying it in a pizza pan.

some lovely nibbly bits…

We weren’t quite so proficient. It is actually quite tricky to stretch dough as thinly as per the Pizza Express house standard (they’re not being mean btw – it’s all to do with the ratio of heat and creating the perfect crust) – mine sort of ended up looking like Sigourney Weaver’s belly before the alien pops out – but Alex fixed it with his pizza-ninja skills.

Then came the toppings; on Pizza Express’ vegan menu you might see – for example – the Giardiniera, which is made with artichokes, mushrooms, onions and parsley. But Alex just let us freestyle it, so mine had loads of jalapenos, red peppers, chilli oil – everything spicy, basically!

Then out came the cheese – that one which Pizza Express had so long deliberated. They keep it frozen (as it gets a little sticky) and in exact serving sizes (so those counting calories won’t miss the mark). A regular pizza needs two of these servings (honestly, I could have happily put four on but rules is rules!)

Seemingly around 30 seconds later (I think it was really 6 mins) our creations were served to us. Critically, I’d have given myself about 6 out of ten, as less would have been more on the caramelised onion jam! But nevertheless, it was delicious.

You could book a pizza making party at Pizza Express for a group of two upwards (so it’s a ‘party’ at least) and they are a wonderful thing to do for a kids’ birthday party also (it’s £11.95 a head for this and worth every penny).

Obviously, you could also just rock up to any one of their restaurants and order a delicious vegan pizza (200,000 others have done this already!) and have a ninja-fingered professional cook it for you. It will probably be lighter, crisper and not have a soggy puddle of jam in the middle. But I feel like I learned something…

BTW – even if you weren’t vegan, it is worth checking out the specialist menu (you might be aware Pizza Express also offer gluten-free) as honestly, you won’t notice the difference one smidge with their excellent dairy-free cheese. And an interesting fact; all the vegan pizzas have half a cherry tomato at their edge – a sign that they are authentic and have not come into contact with any animal-based ingredients.

If you’re wondering about dessert (of course you are) there are some delicious dairy-free sorbet options at around 200 calories.

a really really good looking vegan pizza – made by a pro…

Apparently, Pizza Express make a big deal about ‘not making a big deal’ when it comes to allergens, intolerances and food preferences. In other words, if you need something special, just ask (or call ahead) and it will be seamlessly dealt with. Translation: there won’t be a huge kerfuffle as a red-faced manager yells ‘why the fork did you come for pizza if you can’t eat bread or cheese?!’

Find out more about pizza making parties, events and of course the vegan menu here.  

SM would like to thank the staff at Pizza Express, Gloucester Road.


Pizza Express Doughball Adventure Competition

Pizza Express has always been a great place to go as a family. Maybe it’s because the kids will eat everything on the menu without protest. Maybe it’s because the nice white plates and crockery mean that Mummy and Daddy feel like grown ups. Or maybe it’s because every Pizza Express restaurant still has a sprinkling of that Kettner’s decadence (where you might have spotted the likes of Oscar Wilde and Bing Crosby sipping champagne in the piano bar). And that, in itself, is enough to warrant wearing high heels.

Pizza Express are currently running a ‘Doughball Adventure competition’ to win family holidays, books, games and camping gear. They kindly invited us – and our three little doughballs – for dinner at their Stratford Theatre Square restaurant.

On arrival, the smiling waitress didn’t baulk at the sight of my eldest two rushing around the restaurant or their Dad steering a Bugaboo. Or indeed comment on the fact that we were 15 minutes late. Instead, with a knowing look, she suggested I have a large glass of wine.

Kids’ meals at Pizza Express are straightforward and simple; pizza, pasta, dessert – plus ample crayons and puzzles. Apple juice came with straws; we were offered plastic cups but the kids promised not to spill anything. I gave them stern looks. (It was Daddy who actually did accidentally break a water glass – oops!)

Doughballs are – obviously – an integral (and delicious) part of the Pizza Express dining experience. But they are also – as we newly discovered – great for a teething baby to chomp on. The competition Pizza Express are currently running involves making up a story with  a doughball as the star, Mummy’s story: Mummy had a nice glass of wine and the baby was quiet for ten minutes. 

I’m a creature of habit. Every time I eat at Pizza Express I have exactly the same thing: salad nicoise. Why? Because we never have it at home (“Ewww, Mum, what are all those funny green things?”)

My other half eyed up the plates of every other diner in the restaurant and opted for Seafood Rigatoni. Like the children, he would have happily eaten anything on the menu.

As we were eating, the manager came over and whispered to the big ones that if they finished their pizzas they could make their own ice creams. He maybe hadn’t envisaged quite how keen they were for this; speed scoffing and then ‘forming an orderly queue’ ensued.

As promised though, they were given the ice cream to scoop, strawberries to garnish and a lovely retro glass ice cream dish to eat from. Five-year-old troughed through his chocolate one, three-year-old was so tired from all the excitement he practically fell asleep in his.

And the story-writing? Eldest son’s story went like this: once upon a time a doughball went camping, He took his bow and arrow and caught a pheasant.

Middle child’s: once upon a time a doughball had the best day ever. The End, 

With thanks to Pizza Express and the brilliantly tolerant staff at Stratford Theatre Square. Enter the competition and get up to date prize info here.