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This Week I Ate... Honey & Co, Pizza Express and Zédel

Most critics like to emit shudders when faced with the prospect of dining in a chain restaurant, the uniformity spreading out to hundreds of homogenised branches throughout the country, or indeed the world. But, let's face it, Pizza Express is different.

My aim is always to be a sponge, to soak up those new experiences. Indeed it would be a miserable and fairly useless food critic who was resolutely a stone, casting off the opportunity to try new things. Although with breakfast I am culturally chained to the stake of cereal, eggs, then maybe croissant or toast with marmalade. And with such constraints no other order will do. The croissant must come after the eggs/bacon bit, cereal can only ever come at the start. Indeed if ever toast is offered before the eggs arrive I am discombobulated beyond measure.

You'll therefore sympathise with me when I visit Honey & Co, as I keep doing, recording those visits in nothing but tones of warmth. Because they don't just screw with my idea of order, they give you aubergines. Aubergines at breakfast. But knowing this I enter this cute café on Warren Street, run by ever-cheerful, delightful staff, leaving my breakfast prejudices on the street. In Honey & Co I am a sponge. I am shrouded in an invisible cloak of sponge. I am Sponge Bob Square Pants, except you can't see it.

So when faced with the idea of baked aubergine, olives, soft flatbreads, tomatoes and tahini, I don't even flinch. And there is good coffee which can give me a small measure of gravity.

So if you feel the need to eat vegetables before nine in the morning, Honey & Co is your place. And as I have written before, they sell the greatest sticky buns that have ever been invented. Which you will not mind eating at any time of day. And there are also some amazing merguez sausages which come in soft and flaky pastry. You dip them in harissa sauce and make ooh noises.

Not far from Honey & Co, along the Marylebone Road, is a more conventional restaurant, one that I haven't visited for a while. The life of a restaurant critic often means circumventing so many of the places that most people actually eat in. We're so eager to try the next big thing, to see what's on trend, who's moving it forward, who's screwing it up.

So visits to Pizza Express are infrequent. Most critics like to emit shudders when faced with the prospect of dining in a chain restaurant, the uniformity spreading out to hundreds of homogenised branches throughout the country, or indeed the world.

But, let's face it, Pizza Express is different. Ok, so the menus are pretty much similar, but the buildings are very often not. And having eaten there recently, I can safely say that faced with the prospect of being in a town where you could risk a restaurant you didn't know about or nestle in the conformity of Pizza Express, I would definitely do the latter.

Firstly, Pizza Express's locations (I'm sure they call them units in head office) are often in rather more interesting buildings than other chains. I spotted a cool one which I cycled under in the City this week, adjacent to the museum of London, near the Barbican.

And the place I had lunch in, in quite a grand building on the corner of Baker Street and Marylebone road, is the sort of building many grander, independent establishments would crave.

I don't often eat pizzas so viewed this as a bit of a treat; which on the face of it may surprise you: poncey food critic thinks eating pizza in chain restaurant is a treat.

So along came those doughballs first. Smaller, much smaller, than I remember from a visit in a previous decade, or possibly century. Their littleness was cute, you dipped them in garlic butter, or pesto or some spicy tomato concoction. They were soft and melting.

I gobbled up several. There were fat and tasty olives too. And then along came my Neapolitan. Now I was expecting some fat, thick soggy dough thing, But here was this thin-looking offering with crisp edges. It reminded me of the sorts of lovely pizzas you get up a mountain while skiing in Italy.

And this one was just as good. Really delicious in fact. And it tasted wonderfully fresh, the anchovies, ham and cheese all doing what one might hope for. The pizza came with a little cutter, so you could wheel its blade and cut slices - I shared mine with the others; one was a deliciously chillified chicken number.

There was a plate of salad, whose leaves looked a little tired, alongside a small pot of white creamy dressing. I would have preferred a splash of olive and some balsamic.

There was pudding also, a panna cotta, with a strawberry and a little basil leaf. It was pretty, the panna cotta should have been creamier and less gelatinous.

I spotted that Francesco Mazzei is offering some consultancy. It maybe be one of the reasons the pizzas and service are so good (the range of wine is simple, good and affordable and there are nifty fizzy drinks like San Pellegrino Limonata and Belvoir Elderflower Presse). All, I dare say, of pretty smart and high quality.

Francesco is a Sicilian with a famous restaurant in the City. I'm sure he could get the panna cotta right. Meanwhile I left beaming and have been banging on to everyone about how good Pizza Express is. Try it the next time you need to feed half a dozen of you, time is limited, your budget isn't huge and you want haven't got time or the energy to risk.

Indeed the quality of Pizza Express was brought sharply into context when, the next evening, I grabbed a quick and lateish bite at Brasserie Zédel.

Down under the streets of Soho is this cavernous wonder of a place. A showy establishment which has seen many incarnations but was more recently re-booted by the dudes behind the Wolseley et al.

Now I should add here that when I arrived my palate had been strangely deranged. A beardy mixologist at Barzinho, a new Brazilian bar (just in time for the World Cup) on Archer Street, had given me a pill which coated my tongue in some kind of sugary substance. He could then serve me drinks of such bitterness that one would normally gag. But the mouth compensated for this.

The effects had not worn off by the time I arrived in Zédel, which meant the Picpoul tasted like Liebfraumilch and the Pinot Noir like over-sweetened port.

But the inadequacies of the steak haché could not be blamed on my earlier pillage.

It was tired, old, tough; the victim of having had to sit around all day with nothing to do but wait to be cooked at some late hour by a chef who was surely keener on being well organised than doing some fresh assemblage. Pity. It was terrible.

'We should have gone to Pizza Express,' I told my friends, having been politely asked to refrain from playing the piano as we left.

'Yawn', they went. Tired of my Pizza Express bleating. But they know I'm right. As will you be when you do the same.

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