We’ve watched ‘The Scene’ cinema complex develop over the past 15 years on the corner of High Street and Hoe Street, Walthamstow. A WW2 flying bomb first cleared the area in 1944, then the derelict 1960’s concrete arcade was demolished in 2004 leaving a tarmac open space that’s hosted the occasional market, a wonky blue xmas trees and a tiny ice rink over the years. After all the rumours, planning changes, the ‘fight the height’ campaign, false starts, funding problems and scrutiny comittees something finally happened in April 2013. The JCBs arrived to rip up the tarmac, followed by huge cranes, loads of builders, lorries and mud.
And now it’s nearly finished … and so we are home to penthouses, apartments, a nine screen cinema and five new shiny restaurants to try although only two are currently open. When we were invited to review the new Pizza Express at first we argued – about our integrity, our independence – but, hey free pizza on a Friday night proved to be too tempting!
The decor is based on the old Walthamstow Stadium dog track and the cinema theme is reflected in the camera-styled lighting. I’m sure the large seating area outside will be a popular people-watching spot on warmer days. Back indoors, the booths are great for groups of four. We were given a large round table in the centre of the restaurant which was probably meant to be an upgrade on the rather tight tables for two, but the staff use it as a cut-through from the pizza ovens, passing behind with plates of food, which was rather disconcerting.
We wanted to try the pork & pancetta croquettes from the Xmas menu but they’d already run out, so they must have been popular. Instead we had the Arancini Provola – risotto balls with spinach & cheese, unfortunately they were a flavourless start to the meal, although the spicy arrabiata sauce they came with was addictive. The antipasti sharing platter of salami, olives, sunblush tomatoes and mozzarella with bread sticks was enjoyable and good value for a group at about £10. However we must admit that we do prefer Sodo’s mozzarella and local cured meats – we’d like to see Pizza Express putting more locally sourced products on the menu.
The rocket and Gran Moravia (a veggie-friendly parmesan alternative) cheese salad with truffle oil was fighting – some would find it overpowering. Onto the pizzas, the Mare Rosa was generous in it’s toppings of prawn, salmon and broccoli but was under-seasoned while the Francesco Mazzei Calabrese suffered from being too fiery. I love chilli but I found the balance of sweet roasted peppers didn’t work with the hot ‘nduja.
However the desserts brought smiles, especially the little dolcetti served with a coffee, the Cafe Reale mini figs soaked in spiced wine with mascarpone was a great end to the meal.
It was a bit odd being asked to review a Pizza Express – surely everyone’s been before, has their opinion and has a favourite pizza already. Ok it’s a chain and limited in being creative or individual, but what’s great about Pizza Express is that it appeals to such a wide range of people and Walthamstow needs that. Everyone was out last Friday night, frazzled mums and kids; old and new Stowers; couples of every nationality, gender and ages; folks celebrating with prosecco and those just sharing a pizza and a couple of cokes. It’s a place for a reliable, happy night out and you know what to expect. There’s always plenty of online vouchers and deals available and it’s commendable for the wide range of gluten-free and less calorie options. Of course we are loyal to Peppe – his pizzas are fantastic, but it’s quicker at Pizza Express and you don’t have to hang around in the pub for 40 minutes (although this isn’t really a hardship!) But Pizza Express suits people who wouldn’t eat out in the pub or don’t have the budget for the restaurants in the village which up until now have been the only options for an evening out in Walthamstow. I’m sure we’ll go again – the staff were lovely and it’s a reasonable price, a convenient location and there’s plenty of choices to work our way through.
*Disclaimer: we were invited to review Pizza Express as their guests.
Pizza Express Walthamstow
265 High Street
Tel: 020 8521 8889
Open daily: 11.30am-11pm (Sun 10pm)