New eats: UK's Pizza Express opens in PH

Angelo G. Garcia

Posted at Feb 07 2018 05:52 AM

Pizza Express offers 'inspired Italian' cuisine. Photo by author

MANILA -- Another international restaurant chain lands on Philippine shores. 

Originating from the United Kingdom, Pizza Express offers tasty Italian cuisine in a casual dining setting. 

Located at the upper ground floor of Uptown Place Mall in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, the pizza parlor aims to satisfy Filipinos' love and constant craving for good pizza. 

Pizza Express started at a small shop in Soho district in London and was founded by Peter Boizot, a man described as someone who love to travel and eat good food. After five decades, the pizza restaurant is one of the most successful brands in the UK, operating about 472 shops in its home region alone. 

It has since grown into an international chain with multiple branches in Cyprus, Gibraltar, India, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Middle East, and now the Philippines. 

But what makes it so successful?

Hakim Haouchine, Pizza Express' head of international business development, explained that it's the restaurant's use of quality ingredients that makes its food special. 

Pizza Express head of international business development Hakim Haouchine holds a tray of fresh pizza doughs. Photo by author

“Italian cuisine is really focused on the ingredients. When you go to an Italian restaurant, they give you the antipasto, which is raw ingredients on a plate, that's all it is. But it's so good. So it's very important to select great ingredients. We always try first to source locally, because first of all you want to work with the community around you. Second, it would be fresher and cheaper, and it's sustainable as well,” he said.

Right now, about 70 percent of the ingredients the restaurant uses here in the country are locally sourced while the remaining are all imported. For instance, the tomato sauce it uses is from Italy.

The quality definitely shows in the restaurant's food. The pizza they serve is quite premium compared to fast food pizza chains. 

The Lava pizza is topped with burrata mozzarella. Photo by author

The classic margherita is a basic pizza with just tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. But the Lava pizza is probably one of the restaurant's freshest pizza. It has a tomato sauce base topped topped with olives and cherry tomatoes and finished with chunks of Burrata mozzarella or fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, and a sprinkling of dried herbs and spices. 

For people looking for something with a bit more kick, a must-try is the American Hottest. It's a pizza that uses four different kinds of spicy ingredients—spicy Italian sausage, fresh red and green chilies, and jalapeño peppers. 

The spicy American Hottest pizza. Photo by author

However, Pizza Express' menu is not limited to only these savory pies. Another must-try are the baked dough balls served with garlic butter, pesto Genovese, and marinara sauce; the mozzarella tomato salad, which is the restaurant's take on the classic Italian food combination; and the seafood pasta with prawns, squid, and mussels.

Seafood pasta in tomato sauce. Photo by author

Design wise, no two Pizza Express restaurants in the world look exactly alike. Haouchine said that each restaurant has its own unique design depending on its location. He said that this is because of the 97-year-old founder's philosophy and love for music and art. 

The Philippine branch is very sophisticated and has a lounge feel—black and white floors, plush green chairs, a 3D map of London wall feature, and white marble counters of the all-white open kitchen. 

Pizza Express' modern interior. Photo by author

He also stressed that although the restaurant is not authentic Italian but rather “inspired Italian,” they make sure to serve the best food to its customers. 

“We believe in innovation but we have our own way of delivering food. Although we're not authentic Italian, we're inspired Italian. For example, Italians don't put chicken in pizza but we do. But we don't put it in just to have chicken in pizza but a really nice recipe with chicken,” he shared.

That's why once the brand has settled in the local market, they will add unique dishes for Filipinos like the peking duck pizza in China and the chili crab pizza in Singapore. 

Haouchine added that he is quite optimistic with the Philippine market especially because of the partner they chose to work with.

The Tasteless Food Group holds the franchise of Pizza Express. The restaurant groups is behind successful restaurants like Hanamaruken, Le Petit Souffle, and the highly popular food hall Hole in the Wall, among others.
 
“Definitely I'm optimistic with our partner here. I have seen their concepts and it's so inspirational and I see their passion for food and life. I'm very confident they can take this brand into a really godo place in the Philippines. I worked with many Filipinos in my life like in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Middle East they all love Pizza Express,” Haouchine said.