Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Pizza Express, at last!

The announcement by Pizza Express that they were launching a gluten free menu caused much excitement in our house, so launch day saw us making an inpromptu visit there, foregoing our planned movie afternoon for a taste of proper pizza. 

The staff in out local branch in Hastings were genuinely delighted to be selling gluten free pizzas on their launch day and seemed to know their stuff about the options available.  There was a bit of a hunt to locate the delivery of gluten free lager, but the wait was worth it, a very light and refreshing drink, perfect with (and before) pizza.   The gluten free pizzas are served on black boards which helps waiting staff identify them and will no doubt be really useful for busy evening and weekend visits.  
All the standard (Romana) pizzas are available on the bespoke gluten free bases.  There are a few topping elements that are gluten-containing (more on that below) which would rule out a couple of the options, but you can make substutitions to get a pizza you can eat. 

I ordered a Cappriciosa. I can't eat tomato so had an extra smear of garlic butter on the base and omitted the tomatoes from the toppings.  The base was crisp and light, the toppings fresh and the egg had a perfect runny yolk to dip the crust into. It was, I hate to say, better than my home made version!
My daughter had an American which is a Margarita with pepperoni.  The bases - like so many gluten free breads - are slightly sweet.  This was more prominent with a tomato topping, leading my daughter to say that she preferred my, more savoury, tomato-free pizza.  

The product developers have done a pretty good job.   They have developed a few bespoke gluten free items for the menu so it is possible to eat a 3 course meal there.  We did feel that they have missed a trick in not putting gluten free garlic bread on the menu using the same gf pizza base but hopefully this will follow before too long.  

I think much has already been made of the fact that Pizza Express are only using gluten free flour to dust their bases in the restaurants, to avoid airborn contamination.  I am a bit confused as to how they mix their regular wheat bases, which I thought were made in-house, but judging by the attention to detail, I trust they have this covered.

A visit to Pizza Express still needs a bit of homework before you go.  The list of gluten-containing products and ingredients is only available on the website so you need to read this in advance, or hope your phone gets a signal once you are there.  It really needs to be printed on the menu.  
There are lots of items on the menu that are, or rather could be, gluten free by the omission of wafers or dough sticks.  This could be more clearly marked too as that would give an even wider choice. 
I tweeted @pizzaexpress before we went to get the base ingredients (maize starch, modified tapioca starch, rice flour and potato protein).  It would also be really helpful if Pizza Express could list all product ingredients on their website rather than just a table of selected allergens. This table has not yet been updated to reflect the new menu which is a bit confusing too.

These niggles aside, it was so refreshing to be able to order off a standard menu (and use a discount code!) to get really tasty gluten free and safe food in a comfortable and welcoming environment.  Next time - and there will definitely be a next time - we will leave enough room to try the gluten free chocolate brownie!