Fun fact - I once went on a really awful date at this very branch of Pizza Express. It must have been around 3/4 years ago, as I was still a student at the time and very much new to the world of online dating.
Long story short, this guy and I had absolutely nothing in common which resulted in the most painful two hours of my life. It got to the point where I genuinely started to consider whether I should just walk out half way through the meal, as I couldn't bear a second more of awkward silences interspersed with non-starter sentences.
Luckily I was to return a couple of years later with Des, who thankfully is much better at holding his own in a conversation. This would have been last year, well before the restaurant underwent an expansive renovation.
Occupying a former gentleman's club and situated right by the River Ouse, this Pizza Express branch is well placed as one of York's most visually impressive locations to dine.
When I was invited* to check out the new look and menu, I was certainly intrigued to see what they had done with the place!
Lets start off by pointing out the obvious - Pizza Express is hardly the most groundbreaking or exciting choice when it comes to eating out. However what it lacks in culinary flair, it does make up for in terms of reliability and choice.
When speaking about this with a gluten free friend, they highly commended the chain for its GF options, which are made available across all sections of the menu and "not as an afterthought."
We started our meal off with a customary glass of wine from the decently priced wine menu. Unfortunately I don't recall exactly what we had (I don't think it was the house choice), however both our glasses of red and white were both respectively rather good. In fact the red was served spot on in terms of temperature.
It's these little details which are often overlooked in chain establishments, but they really do make a big difference.
To start, Des went for an Italianised "mac and cheese" variant - Pennette Formaggi. Whilst he rated this extremely highly, it must be noted that it's hard to make something bad out of pasta and cheese.
I went for the Calamari and to be honest, am not too sure why I made this decision. I *should* have gone for the dough balls, which after all are the PE mainstay.
Overall the calamari was fine though, a solid 7/10. If I were to be picky, I would stipulate that perhaps the batter was slightly too thick.
For his main, Des went for the classic choice of a Pizza Fiorentina, made slightly larger by going with a Romana base. In a place with pizza in the name, you would expect good things and this certainly delivered on that promise.
Des' only negative remark was that it was served slightly colder than he would have liked - however overall he really enjoyed it and polished off the cheesy expanse with gusto. Good man.
As I had already eaten quite a large lunch, I decided to go down the salad route, naively thinking that this would be the small option.
I was sucked in by the description of the Bosco Salad, which included some of my favourite ingredients - artichokes, sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella. I added chicken to the mix too as an extra topping.
Whilst this was hardly the diet dish I was expecting (let's be honest here though, I didn't REALLY think I had made the healthy choice) it was actually pretty damn good. I would definitely order it again and probably will do so on my next trip!
At this point we both realised that the time for mindful dining was not at hand. Throwing caution to the wind, pudding was most certainly next on the agenda.
I went for one of my all time favourites - chocolate fondant. I actually make a mean version of this myself at home, but even Des had to admit the Pizza Express version was better.
Like the starter, it's hard to go wrong with good concepts and ingredients - in this case, warm melting, oozing, gooey chocolate.
Des went down a colder route with two scoops of gelato. Again - hard to go wrong with a scoop of chocolate and strawberry.
This was a smaller way to end the evening with a sugary treat, though he did say that it wasn't quite as good as the gelato he had in Sicily last year (which he went to on a "work" trip. It's a hard life Des isn't it!).
Overall we had a very good meal and experience during our evening. Whilst the restaurant was hardly full, the service was polite and efficient.
The decor was also quite a change from how I last remember it looking. The whole place looks a lot fresher and also a lot darker at the same time - regaining some of that gentleman's club vibe with a swipe of publicly palatable sordidly.
Des also noted during a trip to the bathroom the authentic 19th Century urinals, which have been restored to their original "glory". The ladies were fine(?), but perhaps reassuringly not so authentic.
As I said during the beginning of this post, whilst Pizza Express is a safe choice, it's a safe choice which will always have a place in my dining routine.
If I'm on the look out for a decent meal which comes with the promise of consistency and variety, it's somewhere I will always consider, especially when I'm with a larger group of people with various dining needs.
*Our meal and drinks were complimentary, however my opinion is my own, as always.