Eating Out: Pizza Express

I think one of the most frustrating aspects of the low FODMAP diet is eating out. Before my IBS became a real issue, I’d happily eat out at least once or twice a week (even just grabbing lunch on the go, stopping at a cafe or having a sit down evening meal). However since my diagnosis of IBS and since I’ve been following the low FODMAP diet I tend to opt for nights in, where I can cook and know that the food I’m eating will be safe and tummy friendly.

In the early stages of diagnosis I would have gone out, eaten something I know I shouldn’t and suffered, just to save the embarrassment or awkwardness in front of others. I think that you learn your lesson pretty quickly as you soon realise that being ill is not worth it, and as you’re paying for food, you might as well ask the questions to ensure you won’t get ill, and can enjoy the meal!

I live in Southampton, so I’m quite lucky that there are so many delicious restaurants on my doorstep. I’ve begun trialling different ones to find out which chains, or independent restaurants are easiest for following low FODMAP, or those who will really go the extra mile for their customers. I’ve shared one of my recent experiences below, and I hope to continue sharing this to ensure that we can all enjoy eating out, even if we aren’t able to eat off the same menu!

Pizza Express – Oxford Street Southampton

Pizza express are by far the best low FODMAP chain restaurant in terms of choice, ease of ordering and overall taste. All of their pizzas and dough balls can be made gluten free, and they now make dairy free pizzas too! It’s quite handy that being vegan is in vogue as it encourages more restaurants to advertise alternatives! I often go for gluten free dough balls to start, followed by a gluten free pizza. The tomato sauce doesn’t contain any onion or garlic, and they are flexible with toppings so that you can create a tasty, tummy friendly pizza. Overall they have made it so easy for anyone with food intolerances to eat there, and it’s all explained clearly on the menu to save any hassle on the day!

For my most recent visit, I have outlined my menu choices below, and what I thought of each course:

Starter – Gluten-free Dough Balls ‘PizzaExpress’

As I haven’t been to Pizza Express recently, I thought I’d ask about their garlic oil as to whether it’s garlic infused or it actually contains garlic. To my disappointment it actually contains garlic, and I was unable to substitute it for the garlic butter. I therefore instead opted for some plain butter with my gluten free dough balls. They were a nice, light starter, but sadly lacked a little flavour due to the absence of garlic (particularly as I could smell my boyfriend’s garlic butter from across the table!) They were however cooked well, crisp on the outside, soft in the middle and melted the butter which soaked into the dough.

Next time I might try the Buffalo Mozzarella & Tomato Salad without the pesto instead, just for a change!

Main – Gluten-free Margherita Bufala

To ensure the main meal is low FODMAP, the best option is to go for one of the gluten-free pizzas. The absence of garlic and onion in the tomato sauce means that there are quite a few options to choose from. In the summer months, I sometimes try their salads (the Pollo salad without dressing/croutons is my favourite), but this does mean missing out on dressings. But anyway, as for the pizzas, I often go for La Reine (with just a few mushrooms), Fiorentina (without garlic oil), Soho 65 (without garlic oil) or today’s choice, the Margherita Buffala (again without garlic oil). This consisted of buffalo mozzarella, tomato, fresh basil, fresh tomato, and oregano, finished with fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil – a delicious combination which signifies the traditional, yet winning Italian flavour combinations (if only they’d create a grilled aubergine topping to go with it). The pizza was very tasty, with a rich tomato flavour which was balanced by the generous amounts of oregano and basil. I really enjoyed the pizza, however regret not ordering a side salad as the base can be quite dense in texture. Also if you worry (like me) that the food is actually gluten free, always double check (it’s better to be safe than suffering after), and I’ve found at Pizza Express, gluten free pizzas are always served on a board as opposed to a plate to help differentiate (the only gluten-full pizza served on a board is the leggera with a salad filled middle – so it should be quite obvious to tell the difference). On a side not, my all time favourite gluten free / low FODMAP pizza is the Pizza Express Margherita sold in supermarkets (I usually get mine in Sainsbury’s) and this has the best gluten free base that I’ve ever tasted. For some reason, the ones in the restaurant just aren’t as good – I wonder if the pizza oven is spoiling the gluten-free bases. Is this just me? I’d love to hear what you think! Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed my Margherita Buffala and would definitely order it again.

Dessert – Gluten-free Chocolate Brownie served with a Teapigs Tea

As I’m currently on holiday (due to being a teacher) I can make the most of visiting on a weekday and taking aadvantage of offers. Today you could order three courses for £13.95, which is excellent value, so of course I had to try the gluten-free dessert offerings. Surprisingly I was quite full after the dough balls and pizza (it’s a lot of dough and probably not ideal for the low FODMAP elimination phase!) so I went for the lighter option of a small dessert served with a hot drink. I chose the Gluten-free Chocolate Brownie (which is also available as a normal portion for £5.95) served with a Teapigs Everyday Brew (one of my favourite brands of tea – unfortunately there was no decaf tea alternative). Wow – what a brownie! Gooey but not too rich, and nut-free (not only do I have IBS, I also have a nut allergy just to complicate my dietary requirements!) Strawberry and chocolate are also complimentary, and seeing as the strawberry is almost the size of the brownie, it made me feel a little better about eating more cake this close to Easter (on top of all the cake I’ve already consumed). However it was justified, I needed to taste it so I could share my findings 🙂

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my three-course meal at Pizza Express, and for £13.95, it’s great value, easy, and most importantly safe for fodmappers (very little hassle to actually find out what you can have),  and a guaranteed high quality meal.

Update: I’ve since returned and tried one of their delicious salads! I went for the Pollo which consisted of chicken, goat’s cheese, red Roquito pearls, freshpizza express latest tomatoes, black olives and croutons, with seasonal mixed leaves, house dressing and dough sticks. I replaced the house dressing for olive oil and basalmic vinegar, and swapped the dough sticks for a portion of gluten free dough balls to make it low FODMAP. I’d definitely recommend you give it a try, it was so tasty, and a great alternative for a lighter lunch.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any recent meals out at Pizza Express or other restaurants which have catered for the low FODMAP diet. The more of us that eat out and request meals without onion, garlic, gluten and dairy (and all the other things we have to avoid for low FODMAP elimination), the more aware and accommodating restaurants will be!

Alice x

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