Zizzi is one of those High Street fixtures alongside Pizza Express and ASK, with all three Italian eateries belonging to the Gondola group of companies.
They are known for their slickness, lightness of décor and friendly atmosphere. I think most of the food is a kind of pastiche of the real thing, but we as a nation seem to have embraced this short-cut to Italian food. We don’t question what else could be on the menu that may represent the food locals actually eat in Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Basilicata, Lombardy, Umbria, Piedmont, Abruzzo et al.
Zizzi goes down the one-size-fits-all template, all 87 branches offering identikit menus. Chichester’s branch, housed in the city’s old theatre building, has had a recent facelift, with the double high space now much lighter in style and the signature vast masonry pizza oven still a focal point of the on-view kitchen.
Two trees spring out of the restaurant floor, graphics fill one wall and the bar is a nod to its past theatrical use with exaggerated looped stage curtains revealing wines and artefacts.
Three theatre seats also grace the entrance. Outsize cushions need to be removed if sitting on the banquettes as they take up half the space, or you can choose to sit at one of the solid light wood tables with their kindergarden-type blue, grey and white painted chairs.
The menu is predictable. There’s Arancini (risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella and peas); courgette fritti; antipasti; olives and breads; salads (king prawns on salsa or superfood salad of goat’s cheese, squash, courgette, lentils) or insalata Caprese (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and dough sticks); crispy polenta chips with gran padano cheese; meatballs with tomato sauce; ravioli with goat’s cheese; lasagne; fettucine alla Carbonara; pizzas; calzone (folded pizza); spaghetti Bolognese; roast duck leg with Tuscan potatoes and beans; seabass in white wine plus many other dishes.
Steak lovers won’t find any here and nor is there any veal. Surely an oversight. Desserts include tiramisu and gelato.
My choice, calamari with a garlic and basil mayo dip, could have been crispier and was a little greasy.
Cichetti, sharing dishes loosely based on Venice’s back streets, set you back £12 for three. My choices were a workmanlike insalata Caprese, spiedino di pollo (chicken on skewers with peppers) and bruschetta with mushrooms, which turned out to be rather sickly creamy mushrooms with dull bread.
Well, if this sums up the food of la bella Italia, it’s a travesty but one which is accepted in the UK judging by the sheer profits of such places.
If you’re looking for a quick bite in identikit surroundings, this could be for you. But it’s not cheap. My bill was £21 including a glass of good Montepulciano. Service was informed and pleasant by mainly foreign staff, the best aspect of Zizzi.
Zizzi, 43 South Street, Chichester, West Sussex
Food: Two (out of five)
Narrow front door may be tricky for wheelchair use.
How to get there: Follow the signs for Chichester on the A27 and exit at the Witterings roundabout. Go past the station and once past the barriers proceed to South Street (access only), the restaurant on the right. A public car park is behind the street, accessed via Theatre Lane.