Restaurant Review: The Bandra Project By Pizza Express

It was on a Monday that we first lunched at The Bandra Project by Pizza Express. The next was on a Friday and on both days, the fortnight-old restaurant effortlessly captured the spirit of brunch. The crowd was buoyant, pitchers of sangria were being frequently replenished across a number of tables, and meals were progressing at a pace that was uncharacteristically leisurely for a weekday.

The trouble with the restaurant harnessing Sunday’s relaxed mood seven days a week is that those without reservations have to wait for long to be seated. The restaurant is busy not only because it serves some of the most consistent pies in the city. With The Bandra Project, the global pizzeria chain from the UK, has shed its cookie-cutter design to create a distinct, neighbourhood-inspired outlet that stands out from the five branches of Pizza Express in Powai, Andheri West, Colaba, Thane and Bandra Kurla Complex.

Architecture firm Urban Studio and design studio The Busride collaborated on the interiors of the chain’s first hyperlocal concept restaurant in India. They’ve made elegant use of concrete slabs, marble tables, brass accents and cane furniture. Glass windows on two sides of the 3,000 square feet venue ensure that the room feels airy and is filled with sunlight. A clever use of mirrors dangling from the ceiling and at the bar enhances the sense of space and light within the restaurant. The room’s farthermost glass wall overlooks a sunlit lotus pond installed outside the air-conditioned space. Tables by this pretty pond get booked first, but the mirrors ensure you can see a patch of the glistening water no matter where you’re seated in the restaurant.

While the suburb’s voracious diners make merry, the staff struggles with the steady crush. Here they have a larger menu to keep up with. The chain has expanded its offerings to include all-day breakfast, sandwiches, burgers, small plates and large plates. This is also the first restaurant by Pizza Express with a full-fledged bar as opposed to the limited selection of hard drinks, wines and cocktails offered by the other outposts. The pizza menu, meanwhile, is the same across the outlets.

They’re special additions to this menu, but it seems the sandwiches have been given step-motherly treatment. They are assembled using pedestrian white sliced bread as opposed to more the refined sourdough employed by neighbouring Kitchen Garden. Our prawn sriracha sandwich (Rs475) had a tasty filling of creamy prawns that were not at all spicy but tasted instead like prawn cocktail. Sadly, the sandwich was overwhelmed by mayonnaise. Blanketed with bechamel, the cauliflower gratin (Rs325) was bland and boring like baby food.

We’d be glad to see their delicious lamb meatballs in creamy sauce (Rs425), made using almond and tomato, laid over pizza and tossed into a pasta; they’re that good. Perfumed with herbs, the meatballs, served as a small plate, were succulent, and the lightly spiced, moderately sweet sauce good enough to eat plain. There’s very little on the menu to help alleviate the guilt of the cheese and carb load that is inevitable here. An exception is the al dente buttered and boiled baby carrots (Rs125), served on a bed of crisp, garlic flavoured peas. The dish wore a halo of health without sacrificing flavour.

Of their flat, thin, biscuity-crisp Romana pies, the Etna (Rs595 for an 11 inch and Rs695 for  a 14 inch) is a vigorously flavoured meat pizza that never disappoints. The evenly browned pie is endowed with a pungent combination of jalapeno, spicy Italian sausage and speck ham buried under a snowy white blanket of emilgrana. The American (Rs545 for an 11 inch and Rs645 for a 14 inch), studded with pepperoni and blotched with mozzarella, is just as satisfying for lovers of meat. If you have a low tolerance for spice, then pick the crowd favourite Padana (Rs495 for an 11 inch and Rs 595 for a 14 inch) topped with a pleasantly sweet and savoury blend of goats cheese, caramelised onion, red onion and garlic oil. Those undecided about which pies to pick can sample the selection in the form of pizzatinis or mini pizzas (three for Rs545 and six for Rs845) that can be customised with any of their existing toppings.

Dessert feels excessive after you’ve laid waste to their first-rate pies, but it’s worth making room for their fluffy vanilla cheesecake (Rs375) that’s light in texture and flavour. But the tiramisu, called Pick Me Up (RsRs345), tasted like a cloying cup of coffee with hardly any trace of the promised Baileys and rum in the dessert made up of sugary mascarpone and hard coffee-flavoured ladyfingers. On the other hand, the tender-crumbed homestyle coconut cake (Rs325) dripping with chocolate ganache felt like a dish that belongs to a Bandra aunty’s repertoire of comfort baking.

Get: Meatballs in creamy sauce (Rs425); Etna (Rs595 for an 11 inch and Rs695 for 14 inch); The American (Rs545 for an 11 inch and Rs645 for 14 inch); Padana (Rs495 for an 11 inch and Rs595 for 14 inch).

Skip: Cauliflower gratin (Rs325).

This review was conducted anonymously. It is our policy to wait at least a week after an establishment has opened before we review it.

Prices exclude taxes. They do not levy a service charge.

The Bandra Project by Pizza Express, Ground Floor, HSBC Bank Building, Pali Road, Bandra (West). Tel: 022 6250 6800. Open daily, from 8am to 1am. Get directions here.

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