A new branch of the high street stalwart Pizza express has opened in Richmond, but this isn’t a PE as we know it. Dubbed the ‘living lab’ we see a design overhaul, curvy banqueted seating with ‘acoustic domes’ where diners can dock in their iPods, a children’s area with multi-media monitors. An oversized pass with an humungous triple tiered electric oven. Holes on tables have been specially designed to accommodate the essential accoutrements of dining. An alfresco courtyard with a Matissey mural painted by Enzo Apicella, the original designer of the very first PE back in the mid 1960′s.
A new menu includes zingy Piazzettos and new topping combinations, one specifically designed for Enzo Apicella. Its all about the ‘concept’ here at the living Lab – A kiosk open for breakfast serves pastries, coffee and pizza bread pockets stuffed with Italianate fillings. Staff have had ‘conversational’ training aimed at ensuring better communication with the customer. We will see this revamped model of the mighty chain roll out across the UK over the next year if all goes well in Richmond.
The launch party was hugely entertaining with Pizza acrobats flown over from Sicily, music from My Tiger My Timing played till late with generous pours of Processo and ample nibbles to feed the sizeable crowd. Pizza Express may get a bad rep from gastronauts and avoided by highbrow diners. But this recent opening is certainly impressive. No matter how much you like or dislike the pizza on offer it has become a kind of benchmark. PE restaurants offer a product that is not junk but is part of an industrialised, quality controlled, experience that rarely differs in any one of their 376 restaurants. Every day thousands of diners pile through the doors willing to pay for over priced pizza because they know what they are going to get and don’t mind the extra cost because Pizza express is a sure thing. The pizza is better that the greasy frozen base merchants on the delivery circuit and they are topped to order by pizzaiolos who have undergone some regimented training. In a way I’m glad that PE is the standard bearer of restaurant grade pizza in this country – we could do worse – but equally PE is such a common sight on our already idetikit town centers there is massive scope for improvement.
We love the changes at the Richmond branch and hope they do extend to other branches but aren’t PE concentrating too much on the concept and not enough on the pizza?