Going out for dinner is something we all like to indulge in once in a while… or every day in the case of Vanessa Feltz. Whether it’s for a special occasion, a catch-up with friends, or simply because you cannot face hauling your body to the fridge to concoct something that resembles a meal, restaurants save us from the dreariness of being enslaved to the kitchen. I for one would be more than content to never have to raise a saucepan again in my life… unless Janet Street Porter suddenly broke into my house, in which case ‘reasonable force’ would dictate that I give her a good bashing.
Yet in the gastronomic world of increasingly unusual menus and let’s be honest, pretentiousness that Heston Blumenthal alone can get away with, the art of choosing what to eat is possibly the most problematic part of a night out (aside from the person who over-indulged on, and I cringe to even write it, ‘pre-drinking’). I don’t want cinnamon infused celeriac and pickled beetroot croquettes or brandy and Earl Grey infused wild boar. The likelihood is, if a restaurant serves something in this vein it will be well-presented but tepid rubbish, with so many clashing flavours that your palate is forced into a recollection of the first time you accidentally swallowed some of your own vomit or had a dreaded ‘mini-sick’ episode.
However, what should be one of the safest bets for a restaurant diner – the humble pizza – also proves to be rather hit or miss; something that British chefs and restaurants often manage to cock up on a monumental scale. Soggy pizza with too much cheese? Oily or burnt vegetables? So bland that you really might as well be eating cardboard coated in MSG? The base that launched a thousand shits? Yes, I’ve had them all too, but on a recent trip out to Zizzi on South Street I was presented with what I would say is one of the best pizzas I’ve had in this country.
Though my choice (Mezzo e Mezzo) seemed an unusual one at first and horribly inauthentic (creamed new potatoes and mozzarella on one half and roasted vegetables, chillies, Grana Padano and thyme on the other), it arrived cooked to perfection, and the ingredients were colourful, fresh and full of flavour. That I was served it within a mere 16 minutes was nothing short of a miracle. That I had eaten it in just another 8 minutes was an actual miracle given its size, but it really was delicious with its two toppings and it was one of those rare occasions when I was able to eat my fill. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, I forgot to take a photo.
My dining companion’s choice (Mare e Monti, £11.95 – half pictured) was one half King prawn, courgette, mozzarella and crèmefrâiche. The other half was formed of spicy sausage, tomato sauce, chilli and rocket. Apparently delicious, the fact that we both spotted a piece of chewing gum hanging from the underside of the next table provided enough of an unsettled pause for me to take a photo of the Mare e Monti… and the chewing gum.
Yes, Zizzi is part of a chain and yes, the pizza cutters are so useless that they are almost instantly relegated to lying on the table, abandoned. I’ll also profess that I get annoyed with restaurants where ‘coupons’ are bandied about like mini British flags at a Patriotism Rally, especially when you aren’t benefitting from such a scheme yourself, which is certainly true of Zizzi. Is there a secret society for the circulating of Zizzi vouchers that I’m unaware of? I think so. However, my pizza really was exceptionally good (especially for £10.95) and the setting is pleasant with its highly polished wooden surfaces glimmering at you from ever direction. Overall, it really was a very enjoyable dining experience and one that will stick in my memory, even though the chewing gum was eventually removed.
Images – James Heaney