Last Tuesday, after an uncharacteristically gruelling day at the office, I was enduring the daily horror that is Tottenham Court Road at rush hour when my friend and colleague AK (who was my partner in commuting for the day) persuaded me to accompany her to a press event for the evening.
It is a credit to the loveliness of AK that despite an overwhelming desire to slope off to bed with my book I could be found, not fifteen minutes later, apron clad with a face covered in flour in celebration of the search for a new pizza topping combination by the jugernaut that is Pizza Express.
Like many Brits, I have a lifelong affection for Pizza Express, purveyor of simple, well made pizza and pasta sold for reasonable prices at stylishly designed restaurants around the UK. A chain that gets it right, it is my go to option when I don’t have the time or energy to seek out an independent restaurant when visiting a new English city, when I am hungover and need something stodgy and when I feel the need for a familiar and comfortable space in which to dine.
No doubt there are better places to eat Italian food in most towns across the country, and I am a huge advocate for hunting out restaurants run by the people who have grown up cooking, and learning to perfect, their national cuisine. However sometimes you need a fail safe option for a meal where you know what to expect, particularly when dining with a large and fussy group, and this is where a chain like Pizza Express works.
AK and I joined two dozen other journalists at their Charlotte Street branch to roll thin dough bases, slather them in a thick tomato sauce and then select our toppings from a range that included Haribo sweets, silver baubles and chocolate.
I went for slightly more traditional ingredients; building up from a thin layer of green pesto, topped with crumbled goats cheese, sun roasted tomatoes, peppers, red onions and finally strips of pancetta.
As anticipated it was delicious (though I can’t feel hugely smug about scattering a selection of pre prepared ingredients on to a pizza paste). The pancetta crisped on the top and the much loved combination of goats cheese and sweetened tomatoes created a perfect mix of savoury and sweet.
I can’t claim mine was a particularly creative entry, and I suspect a far more madcap concoction may be selected as the eventual winner (if Walkers’ search for a new crisp flavour is anything to go by, cajun squirrel flavoured snack anyone?).
The Create Your Own competition is open until 13th September, and the winner not only has their pizza features on menus around the country but gets £5,000 to boot.
We were generously gifted a huge bottle of olive oil and a gift card at the end of the evening. Now I just need to select which lucky friend I want to spoil.