When going vegan or cutting down on dairy, the pizza issue is a big one for many, including me. Let me be clear: I LOVE PIZZA. Truly, madly, deeply. I could eat it every day. I am edging ever closer to 100% veganism but pizza is an on-going stumbling block for me.
So when I heard that Pizza Express were launching a vegan mozzarella style cheese, I got excited and immediately asked Lucy to go on a pizza date with me. She accepted.
I don’t often eat at Pizza Express these days. In my late teens I seemed to spend a lot of time there, as it was the go-to birthday destination for a while. Nowadays I tend to avoid chains and support local, independent businesses. However, I couldn’t resist the lure of vegan pizza with a ‘cheese’ that might actually hit the spot.
We arrived, hungry as ever and eagerly scanned the menu. Sadly, other than olives, there are no vegan friendly starters so we went straight to mains, looking for the new vegan addition. There is only one pizza (the Giardiniera), which officially uses the vegan mozzarella alternative, so we obviously ordered that. We did this without hesitation, as it sounded right up out street: artichokes, asparagus, red onion, garlic oil and black olives. What’s not to love? For our second pizza we went for the only other vegan friendly pizza – Pianta, which is topped with spinach, mushrooms, pine kernels, artichoke, tomato, chilli flakes and garlic oil and rocket. It comes without cheese so we asked to add the mozzarella.
Lucy and I decided to share the pizzas so we could try both and compare notes. When they arrived, the first thing I noticed was the look. Often, vegan cheese doesn’t melt the way we’re used to from dairy cheese. It can look rubbery and ‘fake’, which some find a bit off-putting. This cheese looked almost like ‘normal’ cheese. If I hadn’t of known it was vegan I’m not sure I would have spotted the difference. I’m very pleased to report that they tasted great too. The combination of toppings was bound to be good but the cheese was excellent and really complimented the other flavours, rather than over powering them. For some reason it definitely doesn’t retain heat in the same way that dairy cheese does, so the food cooled down quicker than it otherwise might have done. For slow eaters this might be an issue. Personally, I am a fan of cold pizza so it didn’t bother me. We happily scoffed the lot and Lucy decided that she liked the Pianta best (because rocket). The Giardiniera got my vote, largely because of the asparagus.
Even though we were fairly stuffed, we decided that we were obliged to sample whatever vegan desert was on offer. The only two options were sorbets – coconut and raspberry. Admittedly they were gorgeous, the coconut suitably creamy and the raspberry satisfyingly zingy, but we would have liked a little more choice pudding-wise.
Overall I was really happy with the experience. It’s brilliant to see high street chains responding to the demand for vegan choices and coming up with creative options that have clearly been thought about with care. The vegan mozzarella is genuinely good and I hope to see similar alternatives used more widely soon. Thank you Pizza Express. Vegan dough balls next please!