In June this year, we were delighted to report that Pizza Express had worked with Coeliac UK to create an accredited gluten-free menu including gluten-free beers, pizzas and other menu items. We were really pleased with our first experience and found our waiter to be knowledgable and very well-trained.
So, last night, we were confident that we would have the same great gluten-free experience at the busy Pizza Express on Euston Road in London. We’d had a great evening catching up with friends in a pub in King’s Cross and decided to nip in to Pizza Express to share a meal before heading home. We agreed to order a completely gluten-free meal so we could share.
The first thing I said to our waiter was “We need two gluten-free meals” as I pointed at the gluten-free advertisement on the menu, which he acknowledged. The “gluten-free choices” part of the menu is very clear as you can see below. I ordered a “gluten-free La Reine pizza on a gluten-free base”, pointing again to the gluten-free choices sign.
I then ordered a “gluten-free aubergine parmigiana”, not bothering with trying to pronounce the confusing “Melanzane”, again pointing at the menu and the gluten-free choices sign.
Finally, I ordered a “gluten-free beer” and a small Peroni.
At this point, I had said “gluten-free” and pointed at the menu so many times it’s safe to say we had a complete understanding. Our waiter repeated the order back and it was bang on.
We were buzzing after a fun night with friends and happily chatted while sipping on our beers. Our meals arrived really quickly. The waitress mumbled what I thought was “Melanzane” or “Parmigiana” as she placed my meal in front of me.
After a few bites of his pizza, my partner said “This is terrible. It tastes of nothing.” I was already a few bites into my parmigiana and was thinking, “This is nice. There are pieces of aubergine, but are these layers aubergine or pasta?” We were starting to get worried but kept eating. After a few more bites I said “I have to ask the waiter about this. This is pasta.”
I called the waiter over and said, “Can I just check? Is the aubergine parmigiana gluten-free?”. He said “That’s a lasagne.” I said “I ordered two gluten-free meals.” He whipped the dish away and sped off.
By this point we were absolutely furious and decided we weren’t going to pay for the meal. I tried a tiny slice of the pizza to see if I thought the base was gluten-free or classic. It was doughy, and undercooked, like a frozen base had not been in the oven long enough. No wonder it tasted insipid. But we still weren’t 100% sure if we’d been given a gluten-free pizza or if my partner had just eaten two slices of normal pizza.
When the waiter got back he said they were cooking new meals for us. I was completely fuming inside but I stayed calm and was very polite. I said “No thank you. We’re going to leave but I’m not happy to pay for these meals. This pizza is undercooked and my meal wasn’t gluten-free so we’re not going to pay.” He called his manager.
The manager apologised and offered to cook us new meals. We politely declined. He said we don’t have to pay for the meal and the drinks are free. We explained how important it is for his staff to get the order right and that our whole weekend could now be ruined. We asked if the pizza was gluten-free and he said “if it’s served on a black board it’s gluten-free. It’s definitely gluten-free.” I know that’s not the truth; all Romana pizzas are served on a black board. He invited us back to have a free Christmas meal on the house, but we had already decided never to eat a gluten-free meal at Pizza Express again. We thanked him for the offer and got ready to leave.
We started to talk about what you should do if you’ve mistakenly eaten a lot of gluten. Do you go make yourself be sick? We were worried our weekend was a write-off at this point and we still weren’t sure if he’d had gluten or not. I decided to ask the waiter if the pizza was gluten-free. He said “you had a classic pizza.” I queried that and he said he’d get the menu. Thankfully, he pointed to the gluten-free sign and we were a bit more confident that we’d be OK.
This completely ruined a really nice evening. We were polite and explained how important it is to get the orders right and the consequences of getting it wrong so it never happens to anyone again. If we started off with the opposite meals we could have been in for a terrible weekend. It might sound harsh, but we are never going to eat at Pizza Express again. Their accreditation gives you false confidence and trust, which is quite dangerous if they don’t deliver. Despite the undeserved trust, I think we were extremely vigilant with our order. How could they get it so wrong? They have a lot of work to do and I question their Coeliac UK accreditation. Other unaccredited restaurants like Carluccio’s can get it right every time. Pizza Express completely failed. I recommend that you don’t eat there.