OF the many issues currently facing Dorchester, one of the most pressing seems to be whether the moderately-sized county town can support seven – count them – Italian restaurants.

With the expansion of the Weymouth Avenue development, Dorchester has added a Carluccio’s, a Pizza Express and a Zizzi to its rollcall of Romanesque delights.

We had already tried and failed to get a Friday night booking in either Zizzi or Carlucchio’s and the only slot we could get for Pizza Express was 6.30pm. The restaurant was heaving and by the time our starters arrived, a queue was already forming by the door.

We all decided to go for starters – two garlic breads with mozzarella which looked deliciously oozy and plump and vegetable antipasti, a gorgeous mix of artichokes, olives, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, dough sticks, peppery rocket and mozzarella for two to share.

The starters were all delicious, my only quibble being that the antipasto arrived on a raised metal and plate contraption that put it rather awkwardly at eye level.

Moving onto the main course, we all settled for pizza – three of us going for the lighter leggera, which had a very thin base and a large hole in the middle filled with rocket salad.

Our fourth member opted for the Romana Padana, which was the size of a cartwheel with a generous topping. While the trio of leggeras all vanished at the table, half the Romana remained and was taken home for the following day’s lunch.

The youngest members of the party went for a large and creamy chocolate sundae apiece, which vanished as if by magic, with no one else getting a look-in.

It was a decent meal – the service was efficient and friendly and the food and wine were both good, if unexceptional. Pizza Express is a popular chain that succeeds by providing a safe-as-houses, family-friendly Italian food. It will hopefully pose no threat to Dorchester’s authentically Italian eateries and offers no surprises.

My Pizza Express bill:
1x vegetable antipasti £9.95
2x garlic bread with mozzarella  £7.90
1x leggera pomodoro pesto  £8.90
1x leggera pollo ad astra £9.80
1x leggera pollo ad astra with extra goat’s cheese £11.30
1x romana padana £11.15
2x chocolate glory sundaes £10.90
1x diet Coke £2.30
1x apple juice £2.35
1x small merlot £4.35
1x large merlot £5.65

TOTAL:  £84.55