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Thursday, July 4, 2013
With two branches in Norwich, Prezzo is locked in a battle in the crowded pizza and pasta market. SIMON PARKIN visits the culinary middle ground for a taste of its success.
Just as in politics, where there is nowadays a tendency for parties to crowd towards the centre ground — that mythical place where most of us can apparently be found — there is a similar phenomenon in the restaurant trade.
In culinary terms this safe middle point — sought to appeal to widest possible wallets and palates — can be located in two tastes: burgers and the vaguely Italian pizza and pasta chains.
There is no shortage of either in Norwich. You can take your pick from all too numerous restaurants serving up burger and fries (and that’s not included fast food joints). And the slicing up of the pizza market is even more crowded.
We all love pizza and pasta, right?
So the likes of Pizza Express, Ask, Zizzi, Bella Italia, Pizza Hut — even Carluccio’s and Jamie Olivers, though they have pretensions, are all fighting over the same turf. Add to that Prezzo, another chain that deals in Italian (but not too Italian) dishes, a wide range of stone-baked pizzas and calzones, pastas and risottos in addition to a range of grills and fresh salads.
They’ve had a branch on Thorpe Road, opposite Norwich Station, for years and recently opened a second in Tombland, taking on premises formerly occupied by Café Uno.
It’s a plum location with views of Norwich Cathedral and tables and chairs on the famous Tombland cobbles that will be perfect in summer.
The interior has wood floors, mirrors, candles, leather booth seats and David Hockney prints. Tasteful, bordering on the bland.
The newly launched spring menu is a well balanced, if over familiar selection. Starters include Bruschetta, crab cakes, grilled goat’s cheese (all around the £5-£6 mark), or if you’re in a group, sharing platters of antipasto or nachos.
Mains include three choices of calzone and three risottos, plus wild mushroom girasole, ravioli and lobster and crab tortelli, and several pasta dishes available in both classic and light options, the later being a smaller portion with extra salad.
There are 12 pizza variations — also all available in classic, light or VIP (extra toppings and XXL size) — plus four executive pizzas. If you’re looking for something different these are the options to aim for.
The spicy Ventricina includes salami, roasted peppers, bolognese sauce, marinated olives and pesto dressed leaves; the Steak And Rocket has sliced rare steak, black olives and grana padano cheese; while the Queen Margherita adds asparagus, spinach and basil pesto to the normal toppings.
My own choice was the Posh Pepperoni (£13.25) a long square base on a wooden board topped with salami milano, calabrese sausage, salsiccia picanti pepperoni, prosciutto, roquito chilli peppers and fresh rocket.
base was super thin and crispy, the toppings good quality and it arrived piping hot. I really have no complaints, despite being huge it disappeared in frighteningly quick time — the only grumble was the knife wasn’t sharp enough (they should give you as mini-pizza cutter).
My dining companion took advantage of a nice touch they do, where you can choose to have smaller portions of two pastas (£11.95), rather than wading through lots of the same. Her verdict was that the Fusilli Gorgonzola, with seasoned chicken, pancetta bacon, leeks and broccoli in a creamy sauce was top quality; the Spaghetti Bolognese was underwhelming.
For dessert we shared a Lemon Torte (£4.95) which had velvety creaminess but lacked the tartness we’d expected from the Sicilian lemon juice.
Like most of these chains Prezzo is any easy option. Not too expensive, not too culinary demanding, it’s the sort of place that you’d opted for ahead of a trip to the cinema or after a day’s shopping. Pleasant as it is, I can’t imagine anyone going for a special occasion.
It’s everyday dining. Not disappointing, but not memorable either.
Open: Mon-Sun 12pm-11.30pm
Prices: Starters from £4.95, pizza from £7.20, mains from £7.25, desserts from £2.95
Vegetarian options: Good
Wheelchair access: Yes