Pizza Express may not be new to the city, but the latest Arena Quarter opening is by far their best-looking venue in central Leeds.
I dropped by to try out their latest menu and discovered that the iconic restaurant chain has really upped the ante to compete in today’s overcrowded casual dining scene.
The latest eatery is part of the area surrounding Leeds Arena’s remarkable overhaul, which is fast becoming the city’ centre’s go-to entertainment hub. And, you can’t deny that Pizza Express is in good company, with the brilliant Blue Sakura, Bulgogi Grill and Arnold’s all nearby.
I’ll be the first to admit that as someone who hadn’t set foot in a Pizza Express in close to 10 years (they lost me not long after Sainsbury’s started selling their pizza), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from them in 2019.
Things got off to a great start as we enjoyed some excellent drinks from the brand-new cocktail menu. The Perfected Negroni utilises Martin Millers Gin to create a bold version of the much loved-classic, while the Vino Sour is a real pallet-cleansing refresher with its Bourbon whiskey, lemon and Ms. Betters Miraculous Foamer.
For starters, we swerved the usual Dough Balls in favour of some newer menu items, and they did not disappoint. The Polenta Chips were an absolute treat, seasoned with rosemary and perfectly crisp, they come sprinkled with Gran Milano cheese and served with a honey and mustard dip.
The Lemon and Herb Chicken Wings were big, meaty and packed with flavour. Served with signature house dressing and parsley, these moreish wings are up there with the best of them. From the pizza menu, we opted for one classic and one newcomer.
As ever, the Diavolo was reassuringly fiery and topped with spiced beef, pepperoni, mozzarella, jalapenos and Tabasco sauce. With extra chillies as requested, it was a veritable flavour-bomb and was complemented well with a glass of the excellent Keltehue Argentinian Malbec.
The Barbacoa pizza proved to be a welcome addition to the menu, and comes topped with pulled beef, spicy chipotle salsa, garlic oil and mozzarella that results in a satisfying sweet and smoky flavour.
We ended our evening sharing the awesome Salted Caramel Gelato and a round of Espresso Martinis, which were mixed with a secret ingredient exclusive to the Leeds Arena venue. Enjoyed over a conversation with our lovely waitress, this is a recipe that they should consider rolling out across all their other restaurants.
Pizza Express Leeds Arena was a pleasant surprise and reintroduced me to a brand I had previously discarded. Boasting great food, inspired cocktails, and fantastic service, this bright and airy restaurant makes for a welcome addition to Merrion Way.
Pizza Express Leeds Arena, 23 Merrion Way, Leeds, LS2 8BT.