8 Oliver Plunkett Street
Phone: 021 427 3106

Irish Daily Mail
18 April 2015

Pizza Express, which trades as Milano in Ireland, is fifty years old. The first restaurant opened in London’s Soho after Peter Boizot was inspired by an Italian holiday to recreate one of his culinary experiences at home.

Boizot took pizza very seriously indeed and went so far as to write one of the classic and authoritative books on the subject. Now in his 80s, he retains a position in the company although it is now owned by a Chinese multinational.

Personally, I’ve always had a lot of time for Pizza Express and Milano, latterly enjoying one created specially by the brilliant Francesco Mazzei of L’Anima.

That was a while back and so, on a whim, I thought I’d have another look and I descended on the Cork branch (there are lots of them throughout the country).

First things first. The staff were universally charming, attentive without being smarmy and a credit to the organisation for which they work. I wish I could say the same about the food.

Okay, the polenta chips were pleasant. They were crunchy outside, had a good deal of Parmesan in the mix, were reasonably fluffy inside and tasted of just enough rosemary. If I were to quibble, I’d suggest that they might have been just a touch oilier than the ideal.

Our other starter was described as risotto fresco (which sounds so much nicer than risotto stanco, I suppose) and we chose it because we firmly believe that you should never, ever mess with this Italian classic.

And, bless me, but they did. They messed with risotto and produced something like kedgeree which was alright if you had been expecting kedgeree.

To be fair, the grains of rice were not al dente in the middle, a common sin outside the Veneto. Nor was it mushy, ditto. But it didn’t behave like a risotto. It was not creamy, it was too solid, too reheated, too dull. And, okay, the flecks of “oak-roasted” salmon were pleasant. But if this were to be your introduction to risotto, one of Italy’s great contributions to the sum of human happiness, you probably wouldn’t order another one.

And onwards unto pizza. The gluten-free version of The American (tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni) was edible. Beyond that it was no great shakes. Of course, when you remove gluten from the equation, dough becomes difficult because this is what gives it elasticity. But gluten free pizza of decent quality is certainly possible with a great deal of effort. Anyone who doubts me should visit Manifesto in Dublin.

I would have thought that Milano or Pizza Express, with their vast resources, could do a lot better than this. It was thin, and there’s no harm in that but it lacked crispness. Moreover, a very thin layer in the middle of the pizza was exceptionally hard to cut (you get wheelie-cutters here). On the plus side, it tasted fine but far from exceptional.

This very slight pizza is listed on the menu at €12.35. I reckon that I could source the raw materials for about 50 cent, even with my lack of buying power. Having done this calculation, I wonder if Milano has a brass neck.

I suppose I should have known better than to order the Leggera Pizza which is billed as coming in under 500 calories and boasting a light house dressing (as distinct from a lighthouse dressing). This was a small affair, made even smaller by the hole in the middle which is designed to accommodate your salad which was a rather sad affair over which it is perhaps kinder to draw a veil. There was a homeopathic amount of goat’s cheese, some very sweet caramelised onion, some tasteless spinach and, allegedly some garlic oil, which I failed to detect. It’s called the Padana which, according to Google Translate, means Po. I hope that’s the river.

My appetite is small at the best of times but I actually left Milano still peckish. And that was after doing my best with a so-called pannacotta. This dish of, essentially, jellied cream should collapse gently when it’s released from its mould, the texture being as important as its creaminess. Milano’s version had the consistency of a hardboiled eggwhite. I could have played handball with it.

With underwhelming coffee, a total of three glasses of wine and a bottle of mineral water, the bill came to almost €80 That’s a lot of money for what we had.