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Oxford Mail: PREZZO: It’s a nice, gentle place, nothing too alarming, with a clientele to match..." PREZZO: It’s a nice, gentle place, nothing too alarming, with a clientele to match..."

As the battle of the Italian restaurant chains hots up, KATHERINE MacALISTER samples a VIP pizza that’s got its competitors on the run.

Anything you can do I can do better. Anything you can do I can do too.”

So sang Doris Day in Annie Get Your Gun. And in a suitable pistols at dawn scenario, Prezzo have come out guns ablazin’ to fight back at their Oxford Castle Italian rivals.

Not to be outdone by Pizza Express’s new menu and introduction of the small bottom pizzas (see previous review), they too have upped the ante and whacked the dough shaped ball right back. There’s a chain restaurant fever out there not to be underestimated.

And I have to say, I think Prezzo’s idea is great. Because instead of trying to work out which pizza comes in what shape, which always gives me a headache and takes all the fun out of ordering, Prezzo has simplified the entire process in one fell swoop. You can have any pizza three ways: light (think slimming), normal, or VIP which means go for it and enjoy yourself.

VIP is clever billing for lardass, it makes you feel like you’re special enough to order the most artery fattening addition on the menu, rather than greedy. So eat your heart out.

For the sake of the review I gave it my best shot. And arriving in a giant rectangular shape, the VIP lived up to expectations for a very respectable £8.45. Delicious and bountiful this ticked all the boxes, and for those calorie counters among you, it’s worth noting I took half home in a doggy bag, so the VIP would be perfect for sharing.

If you’re more of a pasta queen, then the pasta menu has been similarly divided into light or classic, or half portions of two of your favourites on the same plate. Think Quattro Stagioni but in penne form. My friend sampled the Pollo Carbonara (seasoned chicken, pancetta bacon and spaghetti in a creamy grana padano cheese sauce for £9.95) and really loved it.

As for Prezzo itself, I haven’t been back since visiting when it first opened five years ago, and it was busy at 9pm post-theatre when we visited on a Wednesday night but the service was both attentive and quick. It’s a nice, gentle place, nothing too alarming, with a clientele to match.

The food is similar. The starters of bruschetta (sliced cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, red onion, basil pesto and garlic on baked flat bread for £4.95) was really juicy and fresh and had my friend in raptures.

The £5.20 mozzarella in carrozza served with pomodoro sauce wasn’t juicy enough for me – the mozzarella needs to be oozing out and mine was too hard to make it worthwhile. For this much cholesterol (it’s essentially deep-fried cheese) it has to be worth it. And the calamari (£5.65) was a bit ‘wubbery’ as well, although the aioli was delicious.

As well as the pizza and pasta mains, we tried the crab cakes in a saffron sauce (£12.75), which my friend adored. “Oh the crab cakes were so good,” she said rolling her eyes. Because they’re usually just accompanied by a salad or chilli dip and so quite dry. But these had a smooth creamy, fishy, yellow, saffron sauce with them and were really, really nice. Delicious in fact.

“And can I just say,” she added,“ cantering on regardless without pausing for breath, “that the setting there is so lovely. I’ve never been to Prezzo before because it’s sort of hidden behind The Living Room, but sitting outside drinking wine with all the twinkly lights on was like being on holiday. It was really beautiful.

“And I think it’s a far nicer setting than the other restaurants round the corner, which are darker, windier and more exposed. So Prezzo was perfect.”

And running out of air, she finally stopped for breath. And as she did Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better came back around. Better keep on rovin’.

* Prezzo is at 2 Oxford Castle, Oxford.

Call 01865 791748.

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