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Restaurant Review: PizzaExpress, Tonbridge, Kent

December 26, 2011

PizzaExpress, Tonbridge

There are times when only a PizzaExpress pizza will do; I’ve almost grown up with them. Peter Boizot opened the first PizzaExpress in London’s Soho in 1965 and it was revolutionary. He’d first sampled pizza in northern Italy in 1948 but could find nothing similar back in UK. Eventually, he bought a failing pizza shop in Wardour Street, a pizza oven from Naples and found an Italian chef. And that’s when Londoners were treated to a taste of real Italian pizza for the first time. In 1969, Boizot went on to open the Dean Street branch where live jazz performances played and it is still a leading jazz venue today. Now there are PizzaExpress restaurants all over the world. There are also many other restaurants selling pizza but for me, there’s nothing quite like a PizzaExpress pizza (except, of course, one in Naples – but that’s for another post!).

The PizzaExpress in Tonbridge, Kent, is situated in a lovely spot right on the river opposite the ruins of the 11th century Tonbridge Castle. It is also conveniently close to my mum and driving down on Christmas Eve, I didn’t want to head further afield with her – as I sometimes do – when a good pizza was only a couple of minutes walk away. Also, daughter Nicola had received a birthday voucher for a free bottle of prosecco from PizzaExpress so we could have a double celebration of birthday and Christmas with a nice bottle of fizz.

Like all chains of restaurants, there’s always a slight variance between different branches and I’d always found the Tonbridge branch of PizzaExpress a particularly good one. Housed in an old building, it has high ceilings creating a light, airy feel and there are huge, bold and bright paintings on the walls. The staff were immediately welcoming and friendly.

We handed over our prosecco voucher and were soon enjoying some nice chilled fizz. You don’t have to have pizza in PizzaExpress as there are also pasta and salad options, but I usually do; in fact we all chose pizza. The chain went through a bit of a bad patch a few years ago with complaints about the size of their pizzas but they’ve come through this. We all chose their thinner based Romana pizzas and they were huge and topped by a large amount of fresh ingredients. My mother and I chose Rustichella – crispy pancetta, roasted tomatoes, rocket, grana padano and Caesar dressing. My mother can’t eat garlic and I asked if it contained any. The waitress didn’t think so but said she’d check. She came back saying the dressing did and would we like some oil and vinegar on the side – which when it came was some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar in small dishes so my mother could have as much as she wanted. My daughter chose Il Padrino which has chicken, roasted tomatoes, chargrilled vegetables, with a tomato and pesto base, and we had a mixed salad to share.

The pizzas were delicious and we were far too full to have dessert after them but we did order coffee and a tea for Nicola. Part of PizzaExpress’s movement with the times is now offering organic coffee and wonderful Tea Pigs teas (which came in a tea pot with cup and saucer). And they serve a proper ‘Italian’ cappuccino too – in a small cup with the right of amount of milk, rather than horrendous American-styled huge cups that some places use, which have barely a suggestion of coffee in them. PizzaExpress coffee is good.

What really made the difference to our enjoyment of the meal though was the exceptionally good service. It was very attentive and friendly without be obsequious; it was thoughtful too, with the way the waitress actually did check the salad dressing contents. I’d eaten at a more upmarket place recently (not blogged – I only do places I like!) where poor service had spoiled the meal. PizzaExpress pizzas are good but even a good pizza can hardly be Michelin standard, but for me, I’m much happier with a humble pizza and great service and friendly ambience than a posh meal with poor service. Long live the wonderful PizzaExpress and I’ve no doubt I’ll be back there soon.

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