When a new chain restaurant opens in Bristol, for most, it’s not particularly exciting news. However, since their opening in early 2015, the new 149-cover PizzaExpress on the top floor of Cabot Circus (on the same side as the Starbucks, and taking over two former shop premises) has found itself pretty busy – and the team have made an effort to add a touch of Bristol to its design too.
According to our server, every new PizzaExpress restaurant is now being designed in an individual style, taking inspiration from its surroundings. For this new branch, it’s the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta that acts as the major influence: the ceiling adorned with large fret cut balloons, the walls with framed photographs of hot air balloons in flight.
We also loved the variety of lighting that the restaurant features, with the ability to be dimmed in the evenings to create more of an atmosphere.
An open plan kitchen at the back of the restaurant allows diners to watch the kitchen team hard at work, while tall, metallic shelves house the restaurant’s wine selection.
We were seated at a cosy booth for two, which felt relatively private, but required some careful manoevring in order to accommodate bags and coats comfortably.
After ordering our drinks (a glass of fruity rosé for me, a large Peroni for Chris) we turned our attentions to the menu, which featured a number of new options that we’d not previously seen. Far from just pizza, PizzaExpress offer a variety of starters and sides, and a main course list that includes salads and oven baked dishes, as well as calzone, classic pizzas and their Romana pizza list, with these pizzas bigger, thinner and crispier than their standard alternatives.
When it comes to chains, PizzaExpress is generally one of my preferred options…and their dough balls are pretty consistently good. We ordered the Dough Balls Doppio (£6.75) to start: a double portion of dough balls designed for sharing, and served with three different dips. The dough balls themselves were just as good as always: crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle, and steaming hot. Although all very different, the dips were all great: a rich and creamy pesto, a pungent garlic butter and the kick of ‘nduja – a spicy Calabrian sausage softened in olive oil.
Our pizzas were both chosen from the Romana menu, and both were options that had been newly added at the time of our visit. For Chris, it was the Mare Rossa (£12.45): a perfectly cooked pizza base topped with a rich béchamel, lobster bisque and passata base, juicy prawns, oak-roasted salmon (which was sadly a little dry), spinach, chilli flakes, garlic and mozzarella. I was lucky enough to be allowed to try a small slice, and was impressed with the flavours, although I don’t think I’d have been able to manage more than a few slices of a pizza that was so rich.
Mine, sadly, wasn’t as impressive. I was intrigued by the Carbonara pizza (£11.95) – another new menu option that promised a béchamel base topped with pancetta, Gran Moravia, mozzarella and garlic oil, with an egg cracked into the centre before cooking, and a liberal sprinkling of parsley added just before serving.
Again, no complaints about the pizza base – it’s something that PizzaExpress do well. However, the whole thing was a little dry – the béchamel was no longer liquid after baking, and added a pancake-like flavour to the pizza. The yolk of the egg was completely solid, and the whole thing was a little disappointing. I still had plenty left when our plates were cleared, and was a little surprised that I wasn’t asked whether I’d like to take it home, as this has happened regularly in other PizzaExpress branches in the past, or even asked why so much had been left.
On a more positive note, though, we’d also ordered a side of polenta chips (£3.95), which are ridiculously addictive: twice baked with plenty of rosemary, finishing with grated Gran Moravia cheese and served, bizarrely, with a honey and mustard dressing that didn’t really seem to go.
So, positives and negatives on the night of our visit. The service was fantastic throughout: jokey and friendly and efficient. The polenta chips and dough balls were great, and we loved the design of the new restaurant. I think next time, though, I’d choose a tried and tested option from the pizza menu, and avoid the Carbonara option…
Please note: this meal was received free of charge, but in no way impacted on our opinion. We were not obliged to write a positive review, and the venue did not see this review before it was put up on the site.