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Pizza Express, Winchester
THERE have always been two distinct schools of thought when it comes to pizza.
It is simultaneously both an artery-clogging American fast food fest that any true gourmand would run a mile from and a delightful gourmet treat beloved of Italian trattoria where quality ingredients and time-honoured combinations of topping rule.
Pizza Express always liked to think it was pretty clear where it stood in the scheme of things squarely on the good food side of the great pizza divide.
So it was with dismay, then, that bosses of the national chain, which has a beautiful site in Winchester next to the City Mill, greeted reports that one of its salads contained almost double the fat of a dreaded Big Mac.
Stung into action, they returned to the Italian roots of their menu to come up with fresh alternatives and attract ever-more health conscious consumers.
Head chef Antonio Romano went back to the old country of Sicily to unearth such edible treasures as Bocconcini a vegetarian salad of peppers, aubergines and courgettes tossed in a zingy lemon and watercress dressing. Or there's Trio Verde, a literal take on a green salad, featuring a crunchy combo of sweet peas, broad beans and green beans in that same tangy, but oh so low fat, dressing.
And this gentle Sicilian makeover there are no horses heads involved also applies to the pizzas, where you could well find Il Padrino, AKA the Godfather, constitutes an offer you can't refuse. Torn chicken, no less, is paired with sunblush tomatoes, spring veg and fresh pesto for a tasty and original pizza. Or there's the Caponato with slow cooked aubergine, something they call santos tomatoes, pine kernels and mountains of fresh basil.
The wine list too has had a Sicilian dusting, with the berry-fruit brilliance of Nero d'Avola Firriato worth every penny of its £17.55 price tag. The ros-style Pinot Grigio blush is also excellent and an ideal summer drink for all this summer food.
All the old Pizza Express favourites are still there of course and a good two-course meal for two with wine cost £42 with no skimping.
No one is claiming pepperoni pizza's going to make you thin but now Pizza Express have at least ensured that if you order salad there's no unpleasant surprises hiding in your shrubbery.