Review: "Living Lab" Launch at Pizza Express Richmond

PizzaExpress “Living Lab” Restaurant Launch
(Pizza Express, Red Lion Street Richmond, October 20th 2010, review by Tom Green, Photos PizzaExpress)

A collection of mirrored Bose speaker-integrated circles hang at angles from the ceiling. Large white domes float above red leather dining booths where you can adjust your own personal sound and lighting levels. You can even plug in your own iPod. The soulful tones of singer Andreya Triana, the current “go-to girl for leftfield beats producers”, resonate throughout the clean white space, whilst Italian circus chefs parade the floor juggling dough. There’s a buzz here I’ve not felt before in Richmond, let alone in a Pizza restaurant. According to the turquoise suit stood beside me, it’s only the beginning.

What’s most surprising about this newly rejuvenated venue is that it’s still Pizza Express. A typical restaurant refurbishment usually consists of a new colour scheme, a revised menu and maybe the addition of a few works of art. This goes well beyond your average paint job; an observation reflected in the titles of those behind its reincarnation.

In the choice words of Karl James, the ‘Conversational Expert’ behind the controversial staff training –a method centred on the fine art of flirting – the new Pizza Express is all about “everyone having a fucking good time when they come out.” The staff are indeed more attentive and charming, and thanks to the contribution of Sergio Luzzi – University of Florence’s ‘Professor of Acoustics’ no less – you no longer have to shout over your Sloppy Giuseppe to have a chat.

Support band My Tiger, My Timing
The brief given to these expert individuals was to achieve a perfect balance, allowing both music and conversation to flourish in parallel.All this in an atmosphere designed to engage and stimulate the senses. Tonight, Andreya Triana plays in front of a stripped down band. Her voice is pure and nostalgic, melancholy yet energetic. It sits as well on this line up as it does on Bobobo’s sonic production style, as demonstrated in their recent album collaboration ‘Black Sands’. Music like this makes an ordinary evening out memorable.

Without compromising the authenticity and integrity that has defined this restaurant chain since its Soho conception in 1965, what’s been achieved here is quite unique. Richmond is now the proud owner of Pizza Express’ ‘living lab’; an ever-evolving blueprint for the restaurant’s future development. If those at the helm of this project succeed in maintaining the energy of a live music environment, whilst upholding excellent standards of service and food, I’ll be returning regularly. I mean, where else can you watch a live band with a cold glass of Prosecco and a side of dough balls and nutella?


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10 replies »

  1. Is the proprietor of this blog also the owner of Pizza Express? I can see no other reason why this post is published here.

  2. Thank you for writing in, anonymous.

    PizzaExpress is a very significant live jazz promoter creating work for UK jazz musicians.

    This is a new initiative from them to bring in younger audiences playing music across genres in addition to the jazz they promote.

    Since you asked, I do also have two other very good and totally altruistic reasons for including this piece.

    I'd love to know what you think we should be covering which we're currently not. That would be very helpful indeed.

    Thank you for writing in.

  3. It's quite surprising, to me anyway, to see pizza restaurants getting in on the live music scene. The Prezzo restaurants are finishing up their Prezzo Live tour which, I assume, is very similair to what Pizza Express are doing. They're just not the first brands I'd think of when you say live music tour. Way to think out the box.

  4. must be to take the mind off the go awful food that most pizza restaurants serve up; especially faceless chains like pizza express

  5. Tragically misguided refit – looks like McDonalds has met Pizza Hut. Am glad the music was good because if this is how Pizza Express want to develop their business they're going to need something pretty impressive to bring people into this playpen of a restaurant….

  6. Strong language, anonymous – you may or may not be right.

    The programming of Dean Street by Ross Dines and his team IS “pretty impressive,” and well-judged. They strike a great balance between the more commercial acts and catering to the tastes of those of us who like our ears to be put to the test.

    For 2011 I hope that they can continue to build healthy audiences at the
    Pheasantry in Kings Road.

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