Stop one: Zizzi Restaurant, Canary Wharf, London.
Zizzi is an Italian chain restaurant that is slightly more upmarket than Pizza Express. It was recommended by Lonely Planet and there are over 80 restaurants across England, Wales and Scotland. We visited the Canary Wharf branch, which was located around the corner from our London apartment. It had views over the Thames River and was warm and cozy inside.
We had examined the menu earlier in the day, so I knew Zizzi provided a good range of salads and some appealing pizzas. I decided on the Superfood Salad, which came with butternut squash, ribbons of courgette, lentils, broad beans, mint, balsamic vinegar dressing, and bonus dough sticks. The standard version would have come with goats' cheese, but I asked for that to be omitted. Having eliminated the cheese, there was nothing I didn't like. It was a gorgeous salad. I could have eaten it twice over.
It's fortunate I didn't eat it twice, though, because Mr Bite ordered the Primavera rustica pizza in part so I could share a slice. (I did offer him some of my salad, but he inexplicably declined.) Zizzi offers 'classic' pizzas and 'rustica' pizzas, with the rustica variety having a larger and thinner base and providing a higher proportion of toppings to crust.
The Primavera is topped with aubergine, artichoke, peppers, olives, tomato sauce, mozzarella and goats' cheese. It was easy for me to eat around the cheese and we both loved it.
|Primavera rustica pizza|
Unfortunately, we weren't able to re-create our positive Zizzi experience when we visited the York restaurant a week later. I ordered the beetroot and ricotta salad minus the ricotta (the other ingredients included asparagus, artichoke, rocket, and pumpkin seeds), but found there was too much beetroot and I couldn't finish it. I regretted not ordering the Superfood Salad a second time. Mr Bite did order the same Primavera pizza, but Zizzi had changed their rustica pizza bases in the week between our two visits. They now do a wholemeal base and have a different type of tomato paste. I liked it, but Mr B did not.
Our York experience aside, I would recommend Zizzi for easy, well prepared food and extensive menu options. Both of the restaurants we ate in were attractive and well-located and the staff were happy to modify my salad orders for me.
Stop two: Sainsbury's Supermarket, Arnison Retail Centre, Durham.
Our Durham accommodation was next to a small collection of shops that included a large Sainsbury's Supermarket. Despite my enjoyment of Waitrose in London, Sainsbury's is probably my favourite English supermarket chain. In typical British fashion, even supermarkets carry class connotations and Waitrose is unmistakably upper class. It carries luxury products that are only affordable if you are riding on Australian exchange rates, or have a large amount of money to allocate to supermarket shopping. Sainsbury's sits above the bargain-focused stores, but allows you to shop without bankrupting yourself.
The only problem with our Durham Sainsbury's was our (my) inability to buy as much food as we (I) would have liked. Still, even browsing was enjoyable. I also found a variety of frozen yoghurt that delighted me enough to initiate dancing in the freezer aisle.
Vanilla flavoured pumpkin seeds. In frozen yoghurt. In natural frozen yoghurt.
The other flavours of YooMoo frozen yoghurt are pretty appealing too, but this angelmoo variety was love at first sight. And more love at first taste.
Stop three: Pizza Express, Brindley Place, Birmingham.
Having tried Zizzi twice, we thought it only fair to visit Pizza Express for comparative purposes. As with our Canary Wharf Zizzi experience, the location of the restaurant we visited was fantastic. The Brindley Place Pizza Express overlooks the newly developed Birmingham canals, and was busy despite being a weeknight.
|Birmingham canals at Brindley Place|
As with Zizzi, Pizza Express offers a number of pizza varieties. In their case, they are classic, romana (thin and crispy) and leggera (a ring of the romana dough, with a hole in the middle filled with salad!).
Mr Bite ordered the classic Giardiniera pizza topping, but on the romana base. The Giardiniera includes artichokes, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, leeks, olives and garlic oil on a tomato and pesto base. Unlike his Zizzi pizzas, it was too cheesy for me, but it was nonetheless a step up from your standard take-away pizza. Moreover, he enjoyed it, which is the important thing.
|Apologies for the photo quality...|
Giardiniera pizza above, warm vegetable salad below
I ordered the warm vegetable and goats cheese salad, minus (can you guess?) the goats cheese. This was delicious. The salad included chargrilled aubergine and peppers, roasted tomatoes and artichoke, cucumber, lentils, mint and basil. It also came with dough sticks. I would struggle to say which I preferred out of this and Zizzi's Superfood Salad.
If Australia's pizza chains would start serving warm vegetable salads, I would be very happy.
Stop four: Vegan marshamallow mix.
This Angel Food vegan marshmallow mix actually originates in New Zealand, so I find it amusing that I picked it up in Birmingham. From an air miles perspective, this is a very well traveled packet - embarrassingly so. As I now know, Angel Food ships to Australia (an exciting discovery if ever there was one), so I could have waited until I was home and ordered this mix online. At the time, though, my thought process went something like "vegan marshmallows-ohmygoodness-I have to have them-I need them-Mr Bite wait I need to buy these-Mr Bite come back!-vegan marshmallows squee!".
There was no waiting.
I haven't yet used these - I am saving them for a "special occasion", which better arrive before April next year - but am extremely excited to do so.
So there we have it - the end of my European food experiences, at least for now. Have you tried any of the things featured here? Or made / bought vegan marshmallows more generally?
On a more sombre note, my heart goes out to those affected by the recent Connecticut shootings. I don't have enough words to convey how awful the event seems. Shooting innocent children at school should never happen. I hope it never does again. It is heartbreaking.