DESPERATE times for evening eating out options in Northallerton endure.

No sooner than a new place opens – Uno Momento in Friarage Street – then another – Rustica Grande, a few doors away – closes.

The two events are probably connected and no doubt the arrival of the Potting Shed around the corner would have hit Rustica Grande’s drinks trade too.

It’s a shame because Rustica Grande’s Latin fusion cooking and funky bar added a different dimension to the Northallerton culinary offer – no shortage of choices during the day but poor after six.

By all accounts, Uno Momento is going down well. Its “pile it high, sell it cheap” approach to Italian food is proving popular although as with its sister establishments in Darlington and Stokesley (the one in Yarm has a different operator) it has its limitations. Most notably the tightness of the tables means it is not really the best choice for romantic dinner à deux – not unless you want to share your intimate uno momento with half a dozen other diners.

But there we were in Northallerton High Street, the Thursday before the Easter weekend and needing to eat. We didn’t fancy Indian or Chinese, we had been to the Tex-Mex joint Tejanos fairly recently, the Potting Shed’s not really a serious option which left, umm, Pizza Express.

Good old Pizza Express. You’ll never be blown away by a meal there but it is predictably reliable, at least as far as the food is concerned. Whether you are eating a La Reine or American Hot in Bath, Covent Garden, Aberdeen or Abu Dhabi, you can be pretty confident it will taste the same.

They must be doing something right because it has been around as a restaurant chain for more than 50 years and in this fickle, faddish business that represents a considerable achievement.

One element of its success was it being the first chain to really go out of its way to find unusual locations for its sites, be they old banking halls, churches or town halls.

Unfortunately, the Northallerton branch does not have that advantage, it’s High Street frontage being humdrum in the extreme. And the last time we ate there, the service was pretty poor which can often be the case in many of the remoter parts of the empire.

So we entered with expectations based upon a “beggers can’t be choosers” sense of resignation – and were pleasantly surprised.

That was despite being turned away initially. It seemed all the people who couldn’t get into Uno Momento had turned up at the other end of the High Street. With at least two big birthday gatherings, the sense of barely-controlled pandemonium in the air was palpable.

We were confidently told that given half-an-hour there would be a table and, after a quick snifter in the Golden Lion, we returned to find that was indeed the case and the frenetic atmosphere was turned down a notch.

The service was good, despite the numbers being catered for. Our two courses were served reasonably swiftly and we were in and out within the hour.

Our pizzas were absolutely fine too, exactly as we had expected.

We started by sharing some ‘nduja sausage arancini (£6.50) and garlic bread and mozzarella (£5.20). The garlic bread and mozzarella has probably been on the menu since the first branch opened in London’s Wardour Street back in 1965 and its popularity is undimmed despite its astounding price. That anybody should happily pay over a fiver for a tea-cup-sized slab of pizza dough with a slice of melted cheese on top is really quite something and perhaps explains why the China-based private equity outfit Hony Capital paid $1.5bn for Pizza Express a couple of years ago. What a mark-up. What a margin. What a business model.

The arancini risotto balls were soft and creamy with just a hint of spice from the ‘nduga sausage and served on a bed of rocket with a little pot of pesto sauce.

The secret of the success of the garlic bread – and it’s the same with the equally popular dough balls and the pizza bases – is the dough, no doubt turned out by the ton in a factory unit on an industrial estate somewhere close to a motorway, but it’s really the business.

Two Leggera pizzas – those are the ones with the middle removed and replaced with salad to keep the calorie count down – were as good as pizza can get. Both my American Hot (pepperoni with green, Roquito and jalapeno peppers) and Sylvia’s Pollo ad Astra (chicken with sweet peppers, red onion, garlic oil and Cajun spices) had just the right amount of topping.

With two large (250ml - £6.50) glasses of Soave the bill was £48. A crazy amount of money for a meal based on pizza dough, mozzarella cheese and tomato but perversely still reasonable value.

And in Northallerton High Street at present it’s the nearest thing we have to fine dining.


Pizza Express, 141 High Street, Northallerton, DL7 8PE

Tel: 01609 772443


Open: Mon-Sat 11.30am-11pm, Sun noon-11pm

Disabled access. Gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8, Service 8, Surroundings 6, Value 7