I am instantly drawn to the large, floor to ceiling windows in Pizza Express which bring in floods of light and illuminate the bustling, no-nonsense atmosphere of people talking, laughing and enjoying their food: ethnic Indians who appear to have transformed into jolly Italians upon entering the premises!
The waiters are engaged in happy banter with the customers, skilfully articulating how each pizza is made, while a projector playing old Bollywood films hums away in the background. This is a restaurant which has clearly done its hospitality homework.
Pizza Express feels like a genuine Italian pizza restaurant, with a distinct family vibe. Three enormous pizza ovens sit proudly on top of each other, roasting freshly made pizzas laden with ingredients which have been chopped fresh daily, each element clearly displayed in different glass bowls.
The ‘open kitchen’ has a tremendously theatrical element to it, inviting diners to sit and watch the chefs at work: throwing, kneading and tossing dough. To one side, a chef is painstakingly instructing a child surrounded by dough, cheese and mushrooms, on how to prepare pizza.
I am later told that these are dedicated ‘kid’s pizza-making classes’ to encourage children to experiment with food.
Oh yes, I came here to eat! I drag my eyes away from the sights and start with the famous Dough Balls, a signature interpretation of the usual bread starter. Made from hand-stretched dough, I test their resilience by tearing them apart.
The warm crustiness of the bread is lightly peppered with flour as the inside is revealed: soft, chewy and piping hot. They are served with garlic and chilli oil, which I am happily surprised to see contains real chopped up garlic pieces and chilli flakes.
The limited but authentic wine list contains both Italian and Indian wine. I am particularly impressed by the available option of ordering an Italian red and white by the glass, giving the consumer affordable access to the genuine Italiano experience. Bellissima!
The Italian Sangiovese is well-rounded, mellow and perfectly stored (read: not refrigerated as is custom with red wine in India). The waiter asks if I would like my food to come out all at once, or one at a time. Tick, tick, tick.
Probably it would have been even more impressive if the bottle were shown to the customer and tastings allowed before pouring.
The Four Seasons pizza is a myriad of authenticity at every angle: mushroom, pepperoni, anchovies, capers and olives and mozzarella. The mark of a truly great restaurant is how well the simple dishes perform and the Four Seasons does not disappoint.
The pepperoni is decent, the anchovies sharp and biting, the mozzarella generous and stringy. One does not feel the need to compensate by adding extra ingredients.
A small note however – it would have been nice to have added maybe one or two pieces of extra pepperoni so that the pizza base was covered entirely.
Onward to Pizza Express’ signature dish, the Calabrese. Inspired by Calabria, a region of Italy, the establishes promises customers that this is their ‘hottest pizza’ and it is, pleasingly; however it may not be any match for those sporting heavily desensitised Indian palates!
The toppings of Italian and spicy sausage, red chillis, jalapenos, red and yellow peppers with generous servings of pesto-laden rocket and explosive balls of thick mozzarella make the Four Seasons pizza seem dull in comparison.
This is the star of the show and all of a sudden, I realise that plain old pepperoni will no longer satisfy me, no matter how much of it is thrown on. What, me renouncing my former old faithful pepperoni pizza for some hot new Italian version I’ve just met?
Such personal food revelations are rare and marvelous, with one leaving the restaurant a changed person.
Next up, I sample from the pasta section: the Lasagna Classica, described as a layered pasta with lamb bolognese sauce, pancetta, bechamel sauce and emilgrana cheese. By now, my expectations have been raised to the roof.
As the dish arrived with a flourish, I was dutifully advised that the roasting pan was hot and to be careful. (Tick). The aroma of melted cheese wafted lazily around and snaked to my nostrils: instantly, my appetite was whet.
Each bite was left my mouth filled with the rush of warm cheese and bursting with fresh, whole tomato. Now this is lasagne.
One valid point to note however was the limited use of lamb and pancetta, the latter which I would have not known was added had I not read the menu. Yet in an odd way, if I were not expecting meat, I would have been more than satisfied with the lasagne I tasted.
My happy ending came in the form of the chocolate fudge cake with vanilla gelato. Freshly baked on the premises each morning, it came expertly presented in a velvety pool of chocolate sauce.
The creaminess of the gelato melted into the cake’s fluffy embrace; as an after-effect, the strawberry tiptoed over my tastebuds with its bumpy texture.
I was pleased to see that across the world, Pizza Express maintains the same standard for all its dishes in terms of presentation and taste and it is evident that the Mumbai branch has worked very hard to adhere to this.
A passion for relaxed, quality food, wine and living is obviously highly encouraged in Pizza Express. The classic pizzas are highly affordable and competitive with those currently on the market at around 500 INR.
The preparation details are obsessive and this is clearly reflected in the freshness of the produce. The employees are wonderfully, tremendously, gloriously happy to work here and it shows in the level of sincere enthusiasm and professionalism.
As I was getting ready to leave, I took one last look at the menu and spied these very words resting quietly at the very end, in small, understated font: “We donate 20 rupees from every Apollo Romana pizza sold to the Akanksha Foundation, supporting children’s education in Mumbai and Pune.”
Finally, a business that fulfills the double bottom line of business and social responsibility!
Ambience: 10, Food: 9 – well done Pizza Express.
Located on the ground floor, Crystal Paradise, off Veera Desai Rd, Andheri West.
Photo credits: retaildesignblog.net, vouchercodes.co.uk, vinhill.cn, foodspotting.com,
snacktheplanet.blogspot.com, acommonmandines.com, theguardian.com