I’ve been to Pizza Express twice in my lifetime; once in London a couple of years ago with friends where I enjoyed their incredible Diavolo pizza and yesterday when I visited the Dalton Park restaurant in Murton where I also enjoyed a Diavolo. The difference? This time, it was dairy free.
After a visit to Central Healthcare Newcastle around this time last year, I discovered that I had a severe intolerance to dairy. Eliminating all cows milk products from my diet was really difficult but the real challenge came with eating out. Its unbelievable the amount of restaurants that can’t cater adequately for those with a dairy intolerance. A lot of the time I feel left out while my friends are tucking into tasty meals and I’m sat there with a half arsed dish from the menu that’s lacking flavour and texture as its been cobbled together and missing ingredients from the recipe without dairy-free substitutes.
The trouble is, I enjoy eating out; I love catching up with friends for dinner and many of my work meetings are done over lunch so eating out is a prerequisite.
I’m always on the look out for restaurants that have fantastic dairy free options and I’ve decided to start sharing them on here in the hope that it may help others out there in a similar position. I’ve wanted to do this for ages but felt as though it was important to get to grips with being dairy free first as making the switch isn’t easy, especially when you’ve enjoyed cows milk protein products for so many years!
The place that I’ll start with was an unlikely contender for me; Pizza Express. I’d assumed they’d have next to no dairy free options but after hearing that they’d won the award for the Best Vegan Pizza at the PETA Vegan Food Awards 2017, I learned I was wrong.
As it turns out, Pizza Express is a great place to visit if you’re vegan as they can accommodate your dietary requirements perfectly and therefore its ideal if you’re dairy free too with their wealth of pizza toppings and bases, and of course, vegan cheese.
I never knew I would miss cheese so much or dairy produce in general until I discovered that it was what had been making me ill for years and had to cut it out completely. I’d always enjoyed pizza but it wasn’t my first choice if I ate out as steak or a chicken dish would always be my go-to. Then when suddenly something isn’t an option anymore, I began to crave it.
I can’t tell you how much I’ve wanted to have a proper pizza this last year and although I’ve tried making a dairy free one at home, the base resembled a frisbee and the vegan cheese was a stinky, greasy let down. I thought I’d leave it to the experts and give Pizza Express a try, especially after checking out their thorough allergen menu online.
Dalton Park is an outlet shopping centre in Murton, County Durham. Its a great place to have a look around if you’re wanting a homeware, clothing or beauty bargain and for a relatively small place, it has a great selection of restaurants to choose from as well as a Cineworld which I’ve been to a couple of times now. I love the smaller screens and plush seats as it feels more luxe and exclusive.
The Pizza Express at Dalton Park is a real gem. The decor is stunning, really crisp, clean and incredibly Instagrammable! There’s plenty of seating inside but its the ones outside that I can’t wait to sit my tush down on when the warmer weather gets here. I can just imagine enjoying a crisp, cold glass of white in the sunshine while waiting for my Diavolo to arrive!
The service is attentive, friendly and helpful at Pizza Express but most importantly for me, its conscientious. Our server swiftly brought the allergen menu over to me (you can also download it here) and came back to check if I needed any help with it and clarified a question I had regarding one of the dips with the chef in the open kitchen. Not once did either of them sigh, roll their eyes or shrug like some have done in restaurants before when I’ve asked a question about dairy.
Such a positive experience from the start filled me with comfort and reassured me that I could enjoy a meal at Pizza Express safely. The last time I ate at a restaurant that wasn’t quite so contentious, I ended up in hospital on liquid morphine so as I’m sure you can all understand, eating out is a little daunting for me now.
The great thing about Pizza Express is that all of their pizzas can be created with their Italian-made vegan mozzarella alternative so the combination of toppings and options is endless, especially for me who is dairy free but not vegan so I can enjoy the meaty toppings too.
Diet Cokes and ice cold water arrived first followed by my first ever portion of dough balls. 8 fluffy, warm and delicious dough balls, cooked to perfection and the perfect portion size for two at lunchtime. With a choice of dips available, we opted for the pestorissa on which is a harissa spiced tomato dip that’s dairy free and suitable for vegans too. Think finely chopped sundried tomatoes with a light spice and smoky flavour to them; so delicious for dipping that we asked for an extra portion of the dip to enjoy with our pizzas.
I’d always thought that dough balls would be too heavy to be followed by pizza but these were light and fluffy, meaning that we still had plenty of room for our pizzas afterwards. I hope Pizza Express will add more milk free options to their range of starters, perhaps something not dough related like a dairy free version of their calamari, so that we could have a couple of options to share between us.
It wasn’t long before our dairy free pizzas arrived.
My favourite, the Diavolo; hot spiced beef, pepperoni, tomato, green pepper, Tabasco and a mix of hot green, Roquito and jalapeño peppers, but this time with the vegan mozzarella, all loaded onto a Romana base. This is the bigger, thinner and crispier pizza base that was inspired by the pizzas made in Rome.
The Diavolo pizza was every bit as good as I remembered it to be and the vegan cheese didn’t take away anything from the flavours at all, if anything, it enhanced them. The mix of peppers was a great recommendation from our server as they gave the pizza a different level of kick with each bite.
I was so happy to see that the Pizza Express pepperoni is dairy free too. Its amazing the amount of foods, particularly processed ones, that contain dairy that you wouldn’t necessarily think about and pepperoni tends to be one of them. Buying it in the supermarket is a nightmare because you need to check the back of every pack to make sure you get a one that hasn’t got it in!
Our second choice was the Fiorentina on the classic, 1965 original base, chosen purely out of amazement that a egg could be added to the top of a pizza. This delight is usually topped with spinach, a free range egg, tomato, mozzarella, garlic oil, black olives and finished with Gran Milano cheese but we switched out the two cheeses for chicken and the vegan mozzarella alternative.
What an incredible combination; the creamy taste of the vegan mozzarella was perfectly suited to this dish and brought all of the flavours together. I’d have never thought to put an egg on a pizza but by god it was delicious, especially alongside the flavour from the spinach and olives which I think I’d like even more if they were cut up and distributed more across the pizza so that they could be enjoyed with more bites!
The chicken of course wasn’t a necessary extra addition but definitely a one we appreciated; succulent and tasty, it is one of my favourite pizza toppings.
Although I’ve since found out that Pizza Express also do a fabulous dairy free dessert, I am yet to give it a try as we were full up and in need of a wander around the shops to work off our lunch and spend the pennies we’d saved…
Enjoying pizza on a lunchtime, especially at Pizza Express, felt like a real treat but it was very purse friendly too as they have a fantastic lunchtime deal of a classic pizza (small supplement for the Romana base) and soft drink for only £6.95.
For the starter, two pizza mains and two drinks, our bill came to less than £10 each and as someone who is really focusing on cutting back and saving money, I can’t say fairer than that.
I think this deal is a great option if you’re looking for a meal before going to the cinema and its ideal for parents too. Its Monday to Friday until 4pm so mams and dads could take their children for an Italian treat after school, dine from this menu and get the kids something from the Piccolo Menu which offers 3 child friendly courses for the same price, without breaking the back.
To have such a tasty dairy free lunch on a budget has really given me faith that I can eat safely and save money while still eating out.
I think its important to note that Pizza Express didn’t know that I’d be writing this review or that I work as a blogger . I took the snaps of the decor and outside of the restaurant after we had eaten so their amazing service, attention to my dairy intolerance and their incredibly tasty food really is a testament to how great they are as a business and not something that was perfected in order to receive a positive review.
At Pizza Express, I was able to feel like everyone else in the restaurant as I had so much choice and my food didn’t look any different to anyone else’s. When you have an intolerance or allergy to a particular ingredient, its really important to find a restaurant that you can eat in without fear of being given something that could make you very unwell and at Pizza Express, I felt to confident and reassured.
Yesterday may have only been my second visit to Pizza Express but it’ll certainly not be my last!
SHOP MY OUTFIT
*Please be aware that I have tried to make this post as factually correct as possible at the time of writing, based on the allergen information that I have; at any time a restaurant could change their menu or make a mistake. Don’t take my words for gospel, check, check and check again, don’t take any chances with your health!