Pizza Express, The Oasis, Meadowhall, Sheffield S9

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Classy pizzas and delicious desserts win us over after cheese-less starter

Pizza Express at Meadowhall is a visually stunning place.

Sweeping curves, red chairs, white tables, blue glasses, multi-coloured wall panels, split level dining area, cool lighting booms and an open plan bar.

It looks like the future used to look from the 1960s – The Jetsons with a hint of Habitat.

Top marks for design.

We’re greeted with a smile and a look that says; ‘I’ll be with you in a minute,’ and he was.

We had missed the 6pm shoppers rush and staff were busily clearing tables - though one remained stubbornly uncleared throughout.

Pizza Express in the Oasis at Meadowhall is one of 450 in Britain with others around the world from Bejing to Delhi.

It’s always thought itself a cut above other chains 50 years after founder Peter Boizot opened the first one in Wardour Street in 1965 with touches that make a difference like authentic pizza bases, inventive Italian desserts and a hint of quality in the décor.

And a couple of quid on the prices compare to other chains.

As part of the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations they are re-visiting original dishes and giving them a fresh twist.

But first, a beer.

Peroni ‘doppio malto’ which is Italian for double malt. It’s also Italian for rocket fuel.

I’d had Peroni before as a change lager but this one is 6.6per cent alcohol - verdict in Top Tipple section, see panel right.

For starters I chose Melananzine, described as a mini al forno (baked) dish of layered marinated Italian aubergine, passata, mozzarella, basil and Gran Milano cheese.

It looked great when it came - if a little sparse for £4.95 –with three pieces of baked aubergine in a thick tomato passata with basil leaves for garnish.

But not a trace of mozzarella.

I asked the waiter if there should be mozzarella ‘layered’ with the aubergine as it suggests on the menu.

“It’s in the sauce,” said he.

I asked him to show where and suggested the mozzarella should be layered as it said on the menu.

“I don’t know,” said he. “It just comes like that, we cook it and add the green leaves.”

A disappointing response and an expensive three slices of aubergine, tasty though it was.

The dough balls we ordered seemed a bit overdone, dry and without much flavour. The garlic butter helped but overall more disappointment.

We waited with some misgivings for the main event - a smoked ham hock pizza with chestnut mushrooms, buffalo mozzarella, garlic oil and black pepper on a béchamel base, finished with freshly chopped parsley and black truffle oil.

Sounded great – and tasted great too.

The pizza base was light and crisp with a good chewy texture and though gossamer thin in the middle, held itself together well and had fantastic flavor.

The ham hock was melt-in-the-mouth tender, salty and smoky, the béchamel sauce creamy and the garlic and truffle oil added subtly to a very good pizza which went well with a small glass of Nero Davola shiraz at £3.95.

My wife and daughter shared a Leggera Padana - leggera means ‘slight’ and it’s a dieter’s pizza with a hole cut in the centre and filled with salad of goat’s cheese, caramelised onions, spinach, red onions, tomato and garlic oil.

The ladies munched away contentedly and made some very positive noises along the lines of: For a low-fat meal it had good flavour, the goat’s cheese went well with the sweetness of the caramelised onion, the salad was plentiful and fresh and the pizza base crisp.

By this time the place was busy again with shoppers plonking down bags for a rest from retail grazing.

One buxom young woman sitting nearby opened a package and held up a pair of Bridget Jones-style ‘fat pants’ to gigglingly show her husband.

I couldn’t see the look on his face - but they ordered a large pizza each and laughed a bit too loud.

By this time we were in better spirits and ordered Eton Mess cheesecake with marscapone and a tartufo limoncello or limoncello truffle to you and me.

Both were excellent.

The Eton Mess cheesecake came on a wonderfully crumbly base and was sticky, sweet and creamy, the marscapone wonderfully rich.

The limoncello dessert was a ball of gelato with a runny limoncello centre that worked beautifully.

The creamy ice outer perfectly complemented by the tart-sweet limoncello. Delicious.

After a bad start Pizza Express showed enough class to win us over.

Which is more than you could say for the woman holding her knickers in the air.

With one beer and one wine our bill came to £54.20.

* Pizza Express, The Oasis, Meadowhall, S9 1EP, Tel:0114 256 9623

* Open 11am to 10pm Monday to Saturday, 11am to 9pm Sunday.

Star ratings out of five:

Food: 3

Atmosphere: 4

Value: 3

Service: 3