Thursday, September 18, 2014

Vegan pizza from Pizza Express and Zizzi

Vegan pizza. It has never been a big deal to me, because my general dislike of cheese means I am quite happy to have my pizzas cheese free. However, I know it is a big deal to some. If you like cheese, pizza may be one of the best ways to eat it. Plus, pizza is a social food. Avoiding it because you're vegan is not fun. Being seen as odd by restaurant staff who have never thought to leave cheese off a pizza - and there have been times when someone has come out to check not once, not twice, but three times if I really wanted my cheese left off - is also not fun.

The view from London's Canary Wharf Zizzi restaurant

If you live in the UK, those days may be behind you. Pizza Express and Zizzi, which collectively have over 500 stores across the country, both cater very well to vegans. They are also pizza chains of the type that don't exist in Australia (or at least not in Western Australia). They might be chains, but the restaurants are enjoyable to eat in. I would suggest that they are middle class fast food, but with less speed than traditional fast food, and more vegetables and flavour. I do like to support local stores and small town eateries, but the truth is, there is some appeal in knowing we can both get enjoyable (and for me, vegan) meals if there is a Pizza Express or Zizzi in town. If you read their web pages, there is also a lot to like about the philosophies that underpin each company. Pizza Express tends to be a little noisy, but the decor is usually appealing and the service good.

In terms of food, Pizza Express is currently winning in the vegan friendly stakes. As of a few months ago, they have a vegan pizza on their menu - albeit one that is cheese free. The Pianta pizza consists of "spinach, chestnut mushrooms, pine kernals and artichoke on a spicy arrabbiata base, finished with rocket and extra virgin olive oil". As all of the Pizza Express pizza bases are vegan, it's also possible to create a vegan pizza by removing cheese from one of the other eight vegetarian pizzas. For those of you who want dairy free cheese, the company says it's happy for you to bring vegan cheese in, and they will add it to your pizza.

We have eaten at Pizza Express twice since we moved, as well as a handful of times on earlier visits. This year, our first meal was on our very first night in London and I had the warm vegetable and Goat's cheese salad, minus the cheese. Our second visit was shortly after the vegan Pianta had been released, and I thought it only appropriate to test that out.

Vegan Pianta pizza at Pizza Express

Pine kernals aren't something I'd have chosen to have on a pizza, so I was pleased to find they were an accessory rather than the focus of the dish. The pizza base sat at the delightful interface of crispy and chewy, the tomato paste was full flavoured, and the vegetables were fresh. As shown above, there was a generous amount of rocket.

At Zizzi, there is no dedicated vegan pizza but, again, all of the bases are vegan and the staff are accommodating if you want to remove cheese. The Rustica Primavera is one of Zizzi's rustic pizzas, on a thinner and thus wider base. In its standard form, it includes Goats' cheese, aubergine, artichoke, peppers, olives, mozzarella, green pesto and rocket. Asking for no cheese means no Goats' cheese, no mozzarella and no pesto - but the resulting pizza still manages to pack a lot of flavoure.

Zizzi rustica pizzas - my cheese free Primavera is on the front left

The in-store Pizza Express and Zizzi menus don't indicate which items / ingredients are vegan and which are not. However, all of that information is available on their websites ( and If you want to avoid gluten, or egg and not dairy, or dairy and not egg, you can figure that out too. It takes a bit of advance effort, but I imagine you could ask staff within the restaurants for help too.

I haven't mentioned prices in this post, for the simple reason that they vary slightly from store to store. However, both restaurants are reasonably priced, and also tend to have discount deals available if you search for vouchers online. Making pizza at home is something we do regularly as well, but it is nice to know there's a reliable and vegan option when out and about.

What is your favourite chain restaurant, if you venture into such places?

This post is part of my participation in the 2014 Vegan Month of Food. This week I am focusing on main meal options.

Previous 2014 Vegan MoFo posts:
Breakfasts-                                                                      Snacks-
#1 - Vegan French toast                                                                                
#6 - Chocolate coated banana chips
#2 - Apple and strawberry muesli                                                             
#7 - Barbecue inspired nori snacks
#3 - Mango coconut buckwheat breakfast pudding                              
#8 - Carob latte
#4 - Tips for a vegan breakfast on the go                                                
#9 - Tide Tables Café
#5 - Chickpea pancakes with spicy kale and mango                             #10 - Dark chocolate and espresso almonds

Main meal options-
#11 - Moroccan tagine


  1. Pizza Express is such a useful option! It's in so many places and it appeals to everyone so it's a good one to go to with friends or family. I've been creating my own vegan pizzas there for years now but it's nice to see one on the menu which is designed to be vegan. I had that salad last time I went too- I asked for avocado instead of the cheese (No extra charge!).
    I really want to try Franco Manca- it's a sourdough pizza place in London.

    1. I'll have to remember to ask for something instead of cheese if Pizza Express does that no charge! Good to know :-)

      I hadn't heard of Franco Manca, but sourdough pizza sounds fantastic. Thanks for alerting me to it!

  2. I wish we had a Pizza Express here! That pianta pizza sounds amazing. Any pizza place that offers a dedicated vegan option wins points with me :)

  3. idk what I like better, the view or the pizza!

  4. I have eaten at pizza express and agree it is a step about some fast food outlets - and even above some greasy spoons too which can be the little individual-run shops though maybe that is changing. I have two issues with just removing cheese from pizza (apart from loving the stuff) - cheese seems to keep everything from falling in my lap but also a pizza with just vegies doesn't give the protein and range of nutritients that I look for in a meal. Do you balance this by eating a nutritious dessert or just eating well at other meals in the day?

    1. Your point really resonates with me as I grew up with a mother who taught us dinner should always include vegetables, protein and carbohydrate. It has taken me a while to move beyond that concept, and in truth, I do stick to it 90% or so of the time. However, since moving to vegan eating I focus more on getting the balance right over the day, rather than at each individual meal. This helps when buying food out when sometimes my options are carbohydrate heavy (as with pizza) and at other times protein heavy (as with tofu and veggie stir fry). I won't necessarily round the meal out at that exact time, but it usually makes the rest of my eating before or after a little different to accommodate it.

      One thing I like about pizza is that even without the cheese I find it quite a satisfying meal. 100g flour also has 6g protein in its own right, so it's not completely lacking in it, just low :-)

    2. Interesting - I sometimes have to remind myself that proteins are found quite widely as we do tend to get very narrow in thinking about protein. I really try and stick to the veg, protein and carb holy trinity but sylvia is hard to feed when eating out and I do as you do with her and just try and make sure she has enough of each across the day rather than stressing that she is just eating chips for lunch!

    3. I think with children that's definitely a lower stress approach! I really love the study done years ago with 3-year-olds, where they were left to graze on food over an extended period of time (perhaps 24 hours - I forget exactly). Without external interference or social norms around meals, they managed to get pretty much exactly the balance they needed, but each child got there differently. It's not a very practical approach but it reminds me we're quite good at knowing what we need if we can trust ourselves :)

  5. Those vegan pizzas look amazing :) Love that more and more restaurants are catering for vegans!!! Now I am craving some major pizza!

  6. I think asking for the cheese to be removed is slightly more normal here, but we also do have quite a few vegan pizzerias in NYC! And even some gluten-free ones as well! Glad to hear your pizza options are increasing!

    1. Yes, I had no trouble with my requests in America! I guess we'll catch up eventually :-)


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