Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I've Had a Long Love Affair with Chain Restaurants but Jamie's Italian Couldn't Keep the Spark Alive

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I've Had a Long Love Affair with Chain Restaurants but Jamie's Italian Couldn't Keep the Spark Alive

Article excerpt

ONE of the best dates I've ever been on was at Pizza Express Spitalfields. The company was pleasant but reader, I did not marry him the reason our evening was so memorable has everything to do with my love of good chain restaurants. If Jamie's Italian had been more like Pizza Express it wouldn't have lost so many millions of pounds and collapsed.

The date did not have an auspicious start. I was going through a phase where the innocuous question "where will we meet?" induced high angst my suitor later admitted he felt the same and deferring to me was a deft move. This was a third date and I was overanalysing the minutiae if I picked the wrong restaurant he'd never want to kiss me again. Too expensive and I'd literally be investing too much in the relationship; too zeitgeist would be try-hard and I didn't want to risk having to queue. So I tried humour: "There's a great little Italian I know, it's a gem called Pizza Express."

It started as a joke but the mention of the restaurant had a relaxing effect and we went anyway. My suggestion established that this wasn't about showing off. Like other successful chains Wagamama and Nando's, Pizza Express is a safe space. Whether you are in Kirklees or Kentish Town, Pizza Express will be the same. That doesn't mean it's soulless care has still been taken over ingredients, service and design of the space. The food is reassuringly nice but not intimidatingly so or prohibitively expensive most people are familiar with the menus so you can quickly order, say, the Fiorentina (Romana base) and a bottle of house red, secure in the knowledge of what it will taste like, then move on to the more compelling business of conversation.

The menu is largely unchanged since Pizza Express started and the biggest decision you'll have to make is whether to start with doughballs (obvs do). …

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