The Most Stylish Pizzas From The U.K. Are Now In Manila
“We chop daily,” says Hakim Haouchine, head of international business development for PizzaExpress, as he gestures toward the back of their open kitchen. He continues by pointing out the cans of specialty Italian tomato sauce on display in the counter and the ‘nduja, a spicy, spreadable version of chorizo, which he later adds to one of the pizzas. “It’s a success to use ingredients like these that no one has in the market.”
It’s a big risk for the Tasteless Food Group, the same geniuses behind Hole in The Wall, Le Petit Souffle, and Ping Pong Diplomacy, to introduce a new pizza brand to a market already filled with long-established players. Here is a UK-born concept that will battle it out with foreign and local chains, as well as specialty “authentic” Italian spots, for the attention—and appetites—of Filipinos. But the team behind PizzaExpress knows this and they’re taking on the challenge with an arsenal of fares that capitalize on freshness.
“Our selection of ingredients separates us from the rest,” says Hakim, who’s been with the company for 22 years and has ensured the success of the Singapore and Hong Kong branches. Expect nothing else from the Liguria pizza, a generous jumble of plump prawns, juicy mussels, and tender squid that still taste of the sea. Supporting the act are capers, olives, breadcrumbs, garlic, and lemon. Béchamel sauce takes the place of the usual tomato base, and not a shred of mozzarella masks any of the flavors.
The Liguria is listed under the Romana pizzas, which takes on a thin crust and takes on a lengthier diameter of 13 inches. Another option is the classic pizza, with a thicker and chewier crust. Under this category, an absolute must is the Lava, a hot-and-cold pizza, featuring a fresh-off-the-oven tomato base, laden with whole olives and cherry tomatoes, then topped off with generous mounds of chilled burrata. Its simplicity and freshness make it a runaway winner.
Almost unimaginable is how a bite out of a slice of pizza can be described as clean, but PizzaExpress makes it happen. This despite glugs of olive oil drizzled on every pizza and huge cheese cubes taking the place of the usual grated cheese in most flavors. Even after finishing off half a 13-incher, there’ll be enough space to try out their other menu items.
The Baked Dough Balls are nothing less than addicting. Each light, chewy ball can be smothered with garlic butter, pesto Genovese, and a version of red pesto, making them extra fun to eat. One order is never really enough. Among their pastas, choose the Frutti di Mare if you want to get more of that just-caught seafood that is then tossed in a classic pomodoro sauce, or the Penne Pollo Piccante if you like it spicy. Carb-averse diners will find pleasure in either the Mozzarella Tomato Salad (their version of the classic caprese) or the Leggera Superfood, a true bounty of avocado, roasted pumpkin, beets, lentils, pine nuts, and mixed greens. An outstanding dessert comes in the form of a parfait that finds brownie chunks, vanilla gelato, Italian biscotti, pistachio, and caramel all thrown into a mix, which they call Big Bad Brownie.
Enjoying all these in a well-lit, beautifully designed space is an extra treat. Here, you won’t find the usual wooden tables and chairs or red-bricked walls reminiscent of Italian trattorias. They don’t claim to be entirely authentic, which conversely makes the experience more favorable. “We call our self Italian inspired. The thing around the world is there’s more innovation applied to the pizza than in Italy. That’s what stops us from saying we’re authentic. It’s more inspired from Italy and we use a lot of Italian ingredients, but we try to innovate a lot around the pizza and the pasta,” shares Hakim.
They even have a Peking duck pizza in Hong Kong and a chili crab flavor in Singapore. What could it be for their Philippine outlets? An adobo pizza topped with crispy chicken and pork flakes? Whatever it may be, it’s sure to be fresh and stylish.
UG/F Uptown Mall, 36th Street corner 9th Avenue Bonifacio Global City