Can Domino's new 'gourmet range' satisfy a food snob?

The pizza chain is going upmarket – with mixed results, says John Walsh
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The supper choice of TV-bound teenagers, post-pub students and home-loving carb-o-philes is now available as a "gourmet" range for the more discerning palate. From today, your neighbourhood Domino's delivery-biker can rush you three new "luxury" pizzas with "a host of mouthwatering new toppings on a fresh thin-crust base".

There's something about the word "topping" that tends to curl the lip of the British gourmet, but several Independent colleagues and I agreed to road-test all three as a service to readers.

Pizza Rustica features chicken breast strips, smoked bacon rashers, baby spinach and baby plum tomatoes. We found the chicken dry and bland, the tomatoes sweet and flavourful, the spinach easily ignored and the bacon – well, what was it doing on a pizza at all? As anyone who recently returned from Tuscany will tell you, Italians don't eat bacon rashers, they eat Parma ham, in picnics, sandwiches or on pizzas. Any claim to "gourmet" status is instantly negated by this nod towards the British workman's café breakfast.

Pizza Firenze is "a fiery combination of Ventricina salami, pepperoni and Peruvian roquito peppers". We all liked the selection of charcuterie, we admired the way it was artfully bejewelled with red peppers – and we agreed that, if you want to go the hot peppers route to wake you from your post-five-pints stupor, you'd be better off burning your tonsils with a Diavolo, Etna or Calabrese from Pizza Express.

Pizza Florentine is a meek and mild version of the Express's Fiorentina. But whereas the latter recognises that the word "Florentine" means the main ingredient should be spinach, the Domino's version leads with Greek feta cheese. It's not bad, it's even appreciably pungent, which you cannot say about many Domino's ingredients – but it's got damn-all to do with a classic pizza, let alone a "gourmet" variant.

Connoisseurs of iffy nomenclature might also like to try the "Gourmet garlic bread" which, while apparently containing no actual garlic, offers some nice tomatoey mozzarella on thin dough shoved under a grill – cheese on toast, in other words.

If Domino's fails to convince food snobs (such as me) that their gourmet range is anything special, at least they know their audience; they know that a chicken-with-bacon pizza, with a side-order of Welsh rarebit, will hit the G-spot of the British late-night drinking classes. But will they be happy to pay £15 for the privilege? Assuming they are drunk, they will almost certainly plump for a large, which will set them back around £17, for which, if you're lucky, easyJet will fly you to Pisa (pizza not included).

Dotty about pizza

* The vast expansion of the Domino's franchise, which boasts almost 1,000 stores around the world, is the archetypal all-American success story. It began in 1960 when Tom and James Monaghan borrowed $500 to buy DomiNick's, a small-town pizzeria in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

* The firm's domino tile logo has three dots. The Monaghan brothers had planned to add a dot with each new store, a plan they quickly abandoned as they expanded.

* The first UK outlet opened in Luton in 1985, and Domino's UK has undegone aggressive recent expansion, opening 150 outlets since 2008 to bring the total to almost 700.

* As the recession hit and nights out gave way to nights in, revenues reached £188.6m in 2010. Smart marketing capitalised on the age of austerity while ads trailing The Simpsons and Britain's Got Talent reached a lucrative young male demographic.