Review: Going veggie down at Pizza Express

Tomato, basil, cheese and bread. How many of the world’s best dishes actually boil down to those ingredients? A recipe book attempting to feature them all would probably be a mighty tome indeed.
But Pizza Express has known since it opened the first restaurant in 1965 that the British love affair with the tri-colour representation of Italian cuisine is a long-term relationship and across its 400 UK restaurants continues to explore new ways of presenting our favourite ingredients in interesting ways.

I’d rarely do reviews which give a chain restaurant a rattle – after all, they all offer the same thing so there’s usually little point – but as they’ve just started to introduce some new vegetarian offers into menus just now I took up the invitation to go along and ended up trying a few of the veggie options that also appear on the Christmas menu.
I went along to the Northallerton restaurant. It’s a place that always seems to be busy in a town that’s a bit if a magnet to foodies as it also boasts a Betty’s tearoom and the remarkable upmarket food store Lewis and Cooper. Partly because it is a busy, bustling restaurant but, also because there’s something about the acoustics of the space which doesn’t make for a quiet or intimate space, instead it’s aimed much more at a family meal deal.

We decided to go for the set Christmas menu which consists of two or three courses and is kicked off in seasonal style with a choice of tipples – we went with the Prosecco then dived into the menu.

The starters all manner of differed ways of those tomatoes, basil, braed itc. The brushetta, which also features on the standard menu, is a large helping and features well-seasoned salad and herbs.

Likewise the mozzarella and tomato salad with pasta which is refreshing introduction to the meal.

For the mains we selected a goats cheese pizza – which had a light cheese and a notable velvety soft red onion marmalade to distinguish it.
The standout item of this meal was the superfood salad which was a true dinner salad with lovely fresh assortment of leaves, pine nuts, goats cheese, avocado and sweet beetroot. With a dressing of balsamic syrup this salad packs a lot of flavour into those few hundred gluten free and veggie calories. A proper plate salad and most definitely not an on the side after thought.

For desert, the Christmas snowball dough balls sounded like a fun idea – but really wasn’t. The cream’s just too sweet and the dough balls not sweet or aromatic enough for a seasonal treat at a time when fruits and the rich warming scents of spices give over the festive feeling.

The winter fruit crumble by comparison answered all of those problems with its rich berries and light sweet custard layer.
It must be difficult for a chain restaurant which everyone feels they know so well to introduce something a little bit different.

The idea of incorporating more vegetarian options into a land where the deep pan pepperoni is king is a welcome move, as are the gluten-free options.


Good value at £17.25 for two courses with apperitif and £2 extra if you decide on taking the three courses.

* Please note the food was paid for by pizza express but via the issuing of a gift card which meant I was able to visit the restaurant unannounced. I prefer to do reviews in this way in order to ensure ther’s no preferential treatment dished out.

The Patels launch a veggie cookbook

prashadBradford’s Patel family have have branched out and today publish a vegetarian cookery book with recipes from their high-profile restaurant.

The Patels, who run Prasha in the city, were the surprise stars of the popular TV show Ramsay’s Best Restaurant in 2010 and many of the recipes have been developed by Kaushy Patel who learned to cook as a child on her grandmother’s farm in northern India.

Bobby Patel, operations director at Prashad said: “Prashad means blessed food, and Kaushy has a clear belief that her feelings and love are very much part of the food.

“The Prashad team is determined to show that vegetarian cuisine can be interesting, exciting, and innovative and, above all, taste great!

“We are delighted that we are now able to share our favourite recipes and encourage more and more people to enjoy the flavours and tastes.

“Kaushy challenges even the most committed carnivore to tell her, and mean it, that they missed the meat.”

Published by Saltyard Bookson today, the hardback book will include over 100 Indian vegetarian recipes from simple pickles, dips and street-food to sumptuous family feasts.

Prashad is the only restaurant in Bradford with an AA Rosetter and played a key role in the team that secured the title of Curry Capital of the UK for Bradford.

The book will be available at all Waterstones stores (£25) across Yorkshire and will be the Book of the Month in October. It will also be available from Amazon and other download retailers as an e-book – buy it here Prashad Cookbook: Indian Vegetarian Cooking

Three free food apps

If you want to take your food planning mobile, you could pay for celebrity tips or give some of the free iPhone and iPad apps a whirl. Taking a look at The Sunday Times top apps today it seems that celebs are cashing in with apps which will cost you – Jamie’s 20 minute meals (£4.99), Nigella’s quick collection (also £4.99), and River Cottage every day at more modest £1.79.

But the list also highlights some worth a try out for free. Here’s three that caught my eye if you want to shun the slebs;

  • VeganYumYum mobile; lets you search, view, and organize veggie recipes from the award-winning food blog,
  • Boskoi; The only android app to make the list is also open source and helps users map wild food available for a bit of foraging. Made by the foragers at Urban Edibles in Amsterdam Boskoi is an Ushahidi-based app that comes with a few foraging guidelines. If you don’t have an android smartphone, the service is also available on the web.
  • All dinner spinner;  Like the website, this iphone app lets you search for recipes by ingredient or time allowable or by popularity and makes the recipes sharable.

Vegetarian haggis, for breakfast?

Veggie Haggis

A herby taste with an interesting texture would about sum up the experience.

Seeing vegetarian haggis offered on the breakfast menu of an Edinburgh hotel this week it would have been rude not to. As you can see, the wee haggis is a rissole of an affair sitting on top of the potato pancake and takes it place alongside the more usual veggie sausage and other traditional cooked items.

Long-term readers of this blog will know that I’m not the biggest fan of vegetarian versions of meat products (remember the debate the veggie black pudding sparked) but putting those objections aside, it was an interesting breakfast addition.

In fact it wasn’t dissimilar to the veg black pud experience with the overriding taste produced by the mixture of herbs. Texture courtesy of barley and it was a good compliment to the sweetness of baked beans.

I’ve since learned that the holy trinity in this regard is the addition of  a glass of Merlot. Seems unlikely but……. perhaps not for breakfast

The biggest veggie breakfast treat in Manchester?

National Vegetarian Week is upon us once more – a time for the non-carnivorous to celebrate all that’s good and green and fresh.

Or perhaps not.

Veggies like a blow out as good as the next meat-eater as I discovered in a recent visit to the Eighth Day in Oxford Road.

Expecting an establishment of pale student types (well this is just about on-campus) ordering up a Fairtrade fix, it was a bit of a surprise to join the breakfast 9am queue of suited and booted middle management types vying for a fry up.

I opted for the innocuous sounding veggie sausage sandwich and was faced with this monster!

Belly buster!
Belly buster!

Juicy non-meat bangers nestling into thick doorstops of moist, light wholemeal bread. It was just the ticket with a huge mug of tea although I would ask for it unbuttered if I ever repeat the experience!

And yes, you do get organic brown sauce.

It’s a shame Manchester hasn’t got more vegetarian eateries – obviously there’s Earth in the city centre and then there’s Greens in Didsbury at the upper end of the dining experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed a special meal there not so long ago but I notice that ManCon’s Ruth Allen didn’t find it quite so tasty on her trip out to mark the week.

Still, there’s a few more days to go, so here’s what’s going on across the north west if you fancy giving the V to meat.

Healthy eating award for Indian

News just in – Manchester vegetarian Indian restaurant Lily’s is celebrating winning a NHS Healthy Food Silver Award.

Family run Lily’s in Ashton specialises in traditional Indian vegetarian without the use of artificial colourings.

Prital Sachdev, who runs Lily’s along with his mother Jayshree said: “We are thrilled to win this award – it’s great that our cooking is recognised as being something which is not only tasty, but is also a healthy option. Our menus contain a wide range of fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables and flavours are very important to us. Cooking methods such as using a clay oven and stir frying maximise taste but are also healthy.”

Lily’s sits alongside Indian grocery specialist, ASM – a well established business and winner of the Outstanding Contribution to Food and Drink at last year’s Tameside Food and Drink Festival.

Proprietor of Lily’s and ASM, Purshottam Sachdev, was recognised for growing ASM from a corner shop in 1972 to a thriving grocery empire at the heart of the local community. Lily’s, named after Purshottam’s late wife, is the 88 year olds most recent venture and some of the recipes used today are his wife’s original recipes – a closely guarded family secret.

Lily’s is open everyday except Tuesday and serves food from 11am to 8pm, closing at 7pm on Sunday.

Friends who saved the Earth

earthcafeManchester’s much-loved vegan café Earth is under new management. Friends Patricia Fulwood and Mike Tollerfield took over the basement after its closure last month and are brimming with ideas for a tasty future.

Now in their fourth week at the Northern Quarter eaterie, Patricia tells me that customers have urged her to keep the same ethos as the previous management. “I will be keeping it vegan – I did think at first that I’d change it to be vegetarian but now I’ve got a feel for it, it’s a vegan place and customers have requested that we keep it like that.

“I am from a Caribbean background so I put that spin on it with more of those sort of flavours” she told me. Typical dishes on offer will include seasonal vegetables cooked in a tropical sty-fry, curries and a plethora of different legumes and pulses in the regularly changing menu. Together with Mike, who has worked at the venue for the past five years, and alongside some of the other former staff, Patricia is now looking to expand what’s on offer from the Turner Street base. “We are going to offer more take-out food and offer outside catering. At a holistic level, upstairs (the Buddhist Centre ) is a lovely place for meetings and we can provide the food for bigger parties.”

And once they’ve made inroads into extending the kitchen facilities, Patricia is full of enthusiasm for the venture with plans to also update the furnishings and the lighting to bring a warmer atmosphere into the basement.

“We are both Buddhists who go to Sangha nights. Sangha translates as “friends” so perhaps we the friends who saved the Earth!” she laughs. The new spring menu is now available and the café is soon to start opening on a Monday.

Earth is at 16-20 Turner Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester.