It’s impossible to walk down the high street these days and bemoan the lack of options for lunch. The fact of the matter is that you’ve probably walked past a huge number of chain restaurants to get this far! They are as abundant as they are far reaching – the Mexican offerings of Taco Bell, the Latin quarter of Las Iguanas, the Portuguese/South African/banterific offerings of Nando’s, the ‘authentic’ Italian eateries such as Strada to the noisier Italian/American offerings of Frankie & Benny’s and TGI Friday. However, the choice of cuisine on offer is no comfort when the vast majority of these outlets largely only deliver varying degrees of mediocrity. Add into the mix a 4 year old diner who specialises in benign, beige food and suddenly, despite the apparent choice on offer, we face an uphill struggle once again!
That said, we’ve tried most of these options at one point or another and Nando’s was an exceptionally fun experience! After a good start, with chicken breast available on the menu, things began to go downhill when the monotonous fussing and dithering over the food eventually turned into the words, ‘Daddy, this chicken is making my tongue go fizzy. I don’t like it’. It’s easy to take these comments with a pinch of salt considering the palaver that proceeded them but upon tasting said chicken, it was evident where the problems lie – it may as well have been smothered in Peri-peri; bloody hot is what it was!
Our first experience of pizza was another character-building experience too, and I mean solely as parents. Plumping for a simple margarita, we were convinced that his love of bread and cheese could be amalgamated to make something beautiful. What transpired was an ordeal of huffing, crust nibbling and tears as we failed to take into consideration the devil re-incarnated tomato base that was deftly hidden between such goodies. Or the fact that gooey cheese is not the actual same as normal cheese…not to mention the different shades of cheese along the baked, undulating surface. The crust nibbling was the worst however; like an emotional teenager managing a relationship break-up by binge eating and sobbing. Lots of sobbing.
It’s fair to say that things could only get better. And they have, gradually.
That this happened with the help of a chain restaurant was surprising to say the least. Now, I should say that Pizza Express has always been the better end of the chain spectrum for me. The grandeur of the city centre locations especially, which seem to be housed in converted listed buildings, lends to an atmosphere of warmth and welcoming that is accentuated by the light, airy fittings and bare wood tables. Us adults have always found their calzone’s to be extremely tasty, the lightness of touch with the dough leading to a pillow of meaty goodness beneath. The salad dishes are also surprisingly fresh and sharp, perfect for summer al-fresco dining. And their romana pizza’s, with the ultra-thin base, are also an excellent alternate choice. All of which is obviously brilliant, but a 4 year old couldn’t care less. What converts a 4 year old, in our experience…is dough balls! Dough Balls, it has become apparent, are the crack cocaine of the little person world.
Progress has now been made. He’s growing up fast, which helps, and we are still on the dough balls, mountains of them in fact. We’re now progressing to smother them in garlic butter, without hesitation. Furthermore, not only have we also expanded our horizons by eating pizza, it is number one choice on the menu and suitably devoured in no time at all. We’re not all the way there, we still have to substitute the tomato base for one of garlic oil and the pizza must only constitute of cheese and chicken – but baby steps; we’re ok with the gooey, uneven cheese colouring these days at least.
Pudding however has never been a problem. The fact that the other courses are following suit is such a positive step. It did look at one point like there was no end to the saga of bland, beige brigade but a combination of a boy who is growing into a young man, more than a little encouragement from us as parents and the tasty, accessible food that is on offer at the likes of Pizza Express, there is light at the end of the tunnel.