Anyone who’s visited Italy and dined in even the simplest osteria will tell you that the overloaded discs of bread we order to our doors couldn’t be further from the real deal. While sausage embedded in crust and gratuitous amounts of cheese are all well and good for a last-minute Netflix marathon, less is often more when it comes to the almighty pizza pie. But finding an authentic pizza in Singapore without breaking the bank isn’t an easy feat, let alone one that’s good enough to earn an Italian’s discerning approval. Ordinarily, the word “express” wouldn't instill confidence in anyone’s search for authenticity, least of all when adjoined to the word “pizza” – however, to our great surprise, U.K. chain PizzaExpress’ first Singaporean restaurant does a darn fine job of serving up pizzas fast and respectably.
A far cry from the uninspiring décor of the famous “Hut”, PizzaExpress’ Scotts Square outlet delivers a decent dose of charm and atmosphere, making it easy to forget the shopping mall basement that exists just beyond its entrance. Adorned with blue leather couches, retro black-and-white prints and can after can of tomatoes above an open kitchen, PizzaExpress exaggerates elements of Italian culture – right down to the striped tees worn by its pizzaiolos – but does so out of genuine admiration. While offering bites of Italiana with its own modern twist, this homage is nowhere more evident than in the food.
The Dough Balls ($6) are exactly as they’re described – balls of dough. Putting the usual garlic bread to shame, the famous bite-sized spheres are as good on their own as they are when enjoyed with the trio of dips, consisting of pesto, garlic butter and pestorissa, a harissa-spiced tomato dip. Putting a super-food spin on the essential insalata, the Leggera Superfood Salad ($13/$20) is a light and wholesome mix of spinach, cucumber, mozzarella, butternut squash and pine kernels drizzled with balsamico. Simple, unpretentious, delicious.
Regardless of the appetiser preamble, it’s the pizzas that you’ll come for, and will ultimately find yourself going back for. With fresh dough prepared and tossed in plain view, the pizzaiolos have clearly been trained in balancing the base-to-topping ratio, with a thin and crispy base that can handle ample toppings without ending up in a slop on your plate. The American Hottest ($24) is easily the hottest ticket on the menu, marrying Southern Italian spice and American tang with pepperoni, hot green and Roquito peppers, chopped chillis, spicy ‘nduja sausage and buffalo mozzarella topped with chilli oil. While those accustomed to local spice will find it tame in comparison, those weary of heat are forewarned.
The Calabrese ($26) takes on the unconventional square shape typical of oversized pizzas popularized by the West and offers a slightly more sophisticated iteration, with the inclusion of both ‘nduja and spicy Calabrese sausage, hot and mild peppers, mozzarella and finished with rocket, pesto and shaved Gran Milano cheese for additional bite. Even the Pollo Forza ($24), which breaks the Italians’ unspoken rule of putting chicken on pizza (that goes for pasta too, folks), is filled with admittedly delectable toppings, including chicken with smoked chilli, garlic oil, dried chilli flakes, peppers, Gran Milano cheese, fresh parsley and chilli oil.
Naturally, you’re not going to get the minimalistic slices that one would find in Naples – the supposed birthplace of pizza – in a historic pizzeria like Da Michele (is it as glamorous as it looks in Eat Pray Love? No. Is the pizza fantastic? Yes. Will you be muscled into giving a mandatory tip? Maybe). But if your leave balance is looking dry and you’re too low on bones for a bona fide Italian meal at Mozza or Otto, PizzaExpress is your best bet for a meal that respects authenticity without compromising on taste or ingenuity. And, unlike many other pizza options around the island, you won’t be leaving too stuffed to walk, nor disappointed.
Text Trent Davis