The TV chef shows us how to make his new Pizza Express creations
Valentine Warner has previous with Pizza Express. The restaurant’s new collaborator might be better known for his bestselling cook books and BBC television show, but once upon a time he could be found sporting the famous black and white stripes as a Pizza Express waiter. Times have changed however, and Warner is no longer handing out menus. He’s designing them instead.
Warner has followed in the footsteps of Theo Randall and Francesco Mazzei in creating a pair of new pizzas for the restaurant’s new spring menu. Valentine’s Puttanesca and Valentine’s Fennel & Salami were both officially launched last Tuesday, and we were lucky enough to be invited along to meet the chef and have a bash at recreating them ourselves.
Joined by fellow blogger What Lucy Ate Next, we were welcomed to the basement of the restaurant’s High Holborn branch, where Valentine and a host of Pizza Express pizzaioli were waiting to give us a crash course in pizza-making. We’d be trying to construct two pizzas each, allowing us to test-drive both of Warner’s new recipes.
First up was Valentine’s Fennel & Salami, a bold combination of flavours born out of Warner’s love for the aromatic herb. After shaping our dough into a disc, we covered the tomato base with fennel seeds, before adding mozzarella, fennel salami (sourced from the excellent Trealy Farm) and a sprinkling of chilli flakes. After a quick blast in the oven, the whole thing was finished off with a generous handful of fresh fennel tossed in lemon oil and lemon zest.
Our next task was to recreate Valentine’s Puttanesca, a cheese-free affair based upon the classic Italian pasta sauce and described by Warner as a “grown-up pizza”. This time we added garlic oil, lemon juice, thyme and fresh chillies to our passata, before piling on a mixture of green and black olives, capers and anchovies. A sprinkling of fresh oregano was then added once the pizza had been removed from the oven.
On to the tasting, where both pizzas would prove equally intriguing. The Puttanesca was fiery, salty and tangy, perhaps a little strong for some tastes, but a sure-fire hit for fans of robust flavours. Valentine’s Fennel & Salami however is the star of the new menu – light, vibrant and perfect for summer. We weren’t initially convinced by the idea of raw fennel on a pizza, but in practice, it proved the perfect foil to the salami’s meaty kick.
Most impressive was Warner’s apparent enthusiasm for the project. A naturally gregarious character, he seems genuinely excited to have made his mark on the Pizza Express menu. It’s also worth noting the lengths he went to to procure the best possible ingredients, with Pizza Express’s regular olives and anchovies replaced by tastier, better-quality alternatives. Needless to say, the new additions will now be used by the restaurant as standard.
Warner deserves great credit for his innovative recipes, as does the restaurant for allowing him to nudge them out of their comfort zone. We wouldn’t be surprised if they were retained on the menu for some time to come, but until that’s confirmed, get yourself down to your nearest Pizza Express and give them a try…