River House PizzaExpress – A Review

Founded in 1965 by Peter Boizot, PizzaExpress remains a popular casual dining restaurant, present in a number of cities across the UK and globally. 5 stars.


Founded in 1965 by Peter Boizot, PizzaExpress remains a popular casual dining restaurant, present in a number of cities across the UK and globally.

Boizot travelled across Europe in the 1960s, until he decided Rome was the city for him. Upon his return to London, Boizot’s entrepreneurial character drove him to create authentic Italian pizzas, ultimately leading to the grand opening of the first PizzaExpress on Wardour Street.

Aptly named, PizzaExpress advocated casual dining by passing slices of pizza through the window to customers.

Situated near Lendal Bridge in York City Centre, PizzaExpress overlooks the River House, granting its customers scenic views of the River Ouse to accompany their casual dining experience.

As I arrived early, the vacant dining area allowed me to absorb the incredible décor: royal blue walls, covered partially by wooden panelling, radiated by warm lighting. Although PizzaExpress exists as an offshoot of a chain, their welcoming interior made the setting more homely, and as a result, added a personal touch to the restaurant. The calm and relaxing ambience was further evoked by the jazz and soul melodies of the background music, referencing Boizot’s love for jazz. Interestingly, the basement of the Dean Street PizzaExpress was transformed into a jazz venue, with Boizot eventually going on to produce a PizzaExpress label.

I was then informed by the waiter that the design of the restaurant had been inspired by the building’s history as a former Victorian gentleman’s club.

Whilst perusing the drinks options, the vast variety of choice was striking. Cocktails and spritzers, different types of wine and gins, beers and cider, and an exciting choice of non-alcoholic refreshments. My guest opted for a pint of Peroni, aptly chosen as Boizot was the first man to import such drink to the UK.

I elected to try a non-alcoholic option of Elderflower and Mint Sparkle, where I was met with refreshing notes from the mint, with the sparkling elderflower providing a floral accompaniment.

For an appetizer, we ordered Marinated Green Olives, served with pink peppercorns and garlic. This was abound with flavour, with the garlic adding an authentic Italian taste.

Image credit: Georgia Lambert

The famous Veneziana pizza, still on the menu today, is representative of Boizot’s charitable nature. Knowing Venice donated money to aid with the 1966 floods, Boizot created the Veneziana pizza, with the aim of donating a cut for each one purchased.

Underneath the description of the dish on the menu, it reads: “The price of this pizza includes a discretionary 25p donation to the Veneziana fund”, whilst the cost of the Leggera Padana pizza includes a 25p contribution to Macmillan Cancer Support.

The combination of eating pizza whilst simultaneously committing acts of charity is a stroke of genius.

For the main, we ordered a Margherita Bufala, which was served with fresh basil leaves and fresh halved tomatoes, with garlic oil and oregano. In comparison to margheritas we have tried from independent Italian restaurants, there was no difference in taste. It was evident by the precise preparation of the ingredients that the chef had treated the dish with care and passion.

I opted to try their new Vegan Mezze, a concoction of smoked chilli chargrilled aubergine, married with sundried tomato harissa, jalapeño and Roquito peppers, rocket, and creamy hummus. Certainly, a rare pairing of ingredients to see on a menu, yet it may be that they can afford to be experimental with their flavours given their status as a chain restaurant.  

A pizza topped with aubergine sparked my curiosity, and it certainly did not disappoint. The crispiness of the spiced aubergine packed a punch, whilst the peppers supplied the heat, making it an excellent choice if you enjoy a dish with a kick. Perhaps, the spoonfuls of hummus could have been smaller, and spread more evenly on the pizza. However, the thin base of the pizza gave it a perfect crisp, which complimented the velvety texture of the hummus.

Image credit: Georgia Lambert

We really were spoilt for choice with dessert, but eventually decided on a Chocolate Fondant, served with vanilla gelato, and a Coconut Sorbet.

The fondant was sumptuous and creamy, as its comforting warm taste was contrasted well with the invigorating chill of the accompanying gelato. The coconut sorbet was outstanding! Possibly one of the best desserts I have tasted: the texture was spot on, and the taste was heaven for a Bounty lover like myself.

Image credit: Georgia Lambert

To round the meal off, I enjoyed a warming cappuccino, made with organic and fairtrade coffee.

Image credit: Georgia Lambert

Overall, I would thoroughly recommend you pay a visit to River House PizzaExpress. If safety is something that concerns you with regards to dining in, PizzaExpress has it covered.

As I was shown to my table, I was greeted by a waiter who conformed to Covid-19 regulations by wearing a face covering and maintaining a 2-metre distance.

As part of their efforts to create a safer dining experience, the customer is encouraged to scan a QR code to access the menu, minimising contact. In the event that the customer cannot access the online menu, they do offer a disposable paper menu as a last resort.

A hand sanitising station located in the entrance hall, and cleaning products were visible in the dining area, with tables being thoroughly cleaned between services. They also offer outdoor seating, which I would recommend, weather permitting, due to the fantastic views of the river, with an added glimpse of the city walls.