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Fancy a pizza this?

Londoners' favourite pizza chain opens its first restaurant outside of the city - and Muddy is in there like swimwear.

With seven successful restaurants in The Smoke including Shoreditch, Soho and Covent Garden, it’s fair to say the brothers behind Pizza Pilgrims, James and Thom Elliot, know their dough. Having grown up in Chipping Norton, they chose to open their first regional outpost in our manor, the spanking new Westgate centre in Oxford, to be precise. Lucky us! Muddy’s resident fast food connoisseur Sophie Hadjikyriacos popped in for a slice of the action.

 

THE LOCATION

Central Oxford – renowned for its dreaming spires, historic buildings and rubbish parking – £7 for three hours?! I’ll take the bus, thanks. But it’s worth the trek because the new Westgate is that rare thing – a shopping mall you’d actually be happy to have dinner at. Pizza Pilgrims is on the second floor roof terrace (check out the smashing view, above), next door to Dirty Bones (ideal for post-prandial cocktails) and opposite the indie Curzon Cinema.

THE VIBE

On a Sunday lunchtime, the restaurant was buzzing with hungry shoppers eager for a slice of hipster style dining and that is exactly what you get. The fun, relaxed atmosphere is enhanced by the quirky interiors – this is no trad checked-tablecloth Italian. It’s kitted out with retro arcade games in case your dining companion starts to bore you, cutlery is served in oversized tomato tins and there’s a novelty parmesan wheel photo booth – serving staff give you tokens and you say cheese (naturally).

It was too parky to venture outside when I visited but the restaurant has a small verandah which will be great for al fresco dining come the summer.

We chose to sit at a bar in front of the open kitchen so we could watch our food being made (behind the safety of a transparent screen). I can confirm no pizzas were dropped, sneezed, or coughed on during service. In fact, I was very entertained by the whole process which was run like a military operation. From the preparation of the dough, to the base being dramatically tossed in the air, to the peel (google it) being placed into the huge mosaic pizza oven, it was done the traditional way – not a rolling pin in sight!

SCOFF AND QUAFF

Inspired by the brothers’ travels around Italy and with many ingredients being imported from there, the menu is classic Neapolitan.

The deep fried mac’n’cheese balls were delicious and well worth the hundreds of calories – hey, it’s OK, I took the stairs. But pizza is obviously star of the show here. The toppings are authentic and more upmarket than your average pizzeria. My tasty portabello and truffle pizza had fior di latte cheese and a crispy thin crust which didn’t feel stodgy or greasy compared to my usual hangover takeaways.

Nicknamed ‘the hungry person’s choice’ (thus fitting for my glutinous other half), the calzone ripieno was filled with ham, cheese, and mushrooms; topped with a tomato sauce and even more cheese. He scoffed the lot so I’m guessing he liked it. We didn’t have room for dessert after such huge mains, but I will definitely wear elasticated trousers next time as I have my eye on the Nutella pizza ring.

KID-FRIENDLY?

Absolutely – there were loads of families enjoying the laid-back environment. There is currently no kids menu – they’ve never had much call for it due to their central London locations – but they do have one in development. So until then you’ll have to buy them a full-size margherita and help out with the leftovers.

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: refuelling after a long day of swiping the credit card. Although late opening hours (10.30pm, except Sundays which is 9.30pm) also make it a viable choice for a pre theatre, cinema, gig or pub crawl dinner too.

Not for: Formal, special occasion meals. The table football and Wonder Woman wall art does not scream fine dining.

The damage: Very affordable. Pizzas range from £6 – £11 with sides starting from £3.

Pizza Pilgrims, Westgate CentreWestgate, Oxford OX1 1TR. Tel: 01865 808030.

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