REVIEW: Restaurant quality Italian takeaway is a dieter’s dream

Kym Hall with her father and chef Saverio Aversa, of Italian Express, South Road, Walkley holding a panzarotti dish. Picture: Andrew Roe
Kym Hall with her father and chef Saverio Aversa, of Italian Express, South Road, Walkley holding a panzarotti dish. Picture: Andrew Roe
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Imagine an Italian eatery where you could have two authentic courses guilt-free - for only 1,000 calories.

It sounds like the stuff that food reviewers - or those trying to slim down for their upcoming wedding - could only ever dream of.

Seafood spaghetti at Italian Express, South Road, Walkley. Picture: Andrew Roe

Seafood spaghetti at Italian Express, South Road, Walkley. Picture: Andrew Roe

And if such a holy grail did exist the last place you would expect to find it is at a takeaway in Walkley.

But the Italian Express on South Road has just been taken over by father-with-daughter team Kym Hall, and chef Saverio Aversa, and they have a new way of doing things.

“I’m a vegetarian and when I go to restaurants I am sick and tired of trying to find vegetarian food”, said Kym.

“Being health conscious as well I am always looking at what is in things - and some menus are just not transparent.

Cristina Tipar, of Italian Express, South Road, Walkley with a delivery bag. Picture: Andrew Roe

Cristina Tipar, of Italian Express, South Road, Walkley with a delivery bag. Picture: Andrew Roe

“I wanted to make it so that we were serving people food that can be luxurious as well as transparent in what it is.”

This ambition culminated in several new menus, one featuring dishes of under 500 calories and also an extensive gluten free version, being launched at a tasting event this month.

At the tasting we had been bamboozled by a panzarotti on the lower calorie menu.

The quite hefty meat versions came in at 470 calories each - no mean feat for a dish that is usually deep fried.

Panzarotti at Italian Express, South Road, Walkley. Picture: Andrew Roe

Panzarotti at Italian Express, South Road, Walkley. Picture: Andrew Roe

It turns out the secret to trimming the fat is to make the pastry of the pizza base very thin although it still tasted buttery and sinful, with gooey cheese and salty parma ham inside.

The healthier menu is something diners often struggle to find even in chain restaurants - unless you want a pizza with most of its filling cut out of the middle - but it wasn’t easy to create.

Kym added: “It took days and days and days of portion control, testing everything with my dad and saying take a little bit of this out and put a little bit of this in! There is probably 100 hours of work just in that lower calorie menu.”

Italian cuisine fans may recognise Saverio, formerly of Dino’s on London Road and Nino’s on Abbeydale Road, among others in the last two decades since he moved across from Naples.

Italian Express, South Road, Walkley. Picture: Andrew Roe

Italian Express, South Road, Walkley. Picture: Andrew Roe

His spare ribs at Dino’s were said to draw in diners from far and wide.

Kym grew up on the Manor and has helped in family restaurants along the way - she was also involved in launching the original Italian Express five years ago.

She is keen to work with local traders and the community, and has signed up to the Pending Coffee scheme where customers buy a drink in advance for a stranger who needs it as an anonymous act of kindness. The scheme was said to originate in Naples, and there are currently 29 pending coffees waiting for drinkers.

“It’s a closer relationship more than anything”, said the 33-year-old of working with her dad.

“The recipes my dad uses are from his mum, it has been built on for generations so when we say it is authentic Italian food people might wonder but it really is.

“What I try and get across to people is that the food is restaurant quality but you are eating it in the comfort of your own home.

“If you want to eat it wearing pajamas then go for it, we are so busy in our lives now that relaxation is essential.”

Guilty as charged. It was a cold Thursday night and we did order while wearing our most comfortable clothes.

The special menus are only detailed online and you do need to visit the new website at www.italianexpresssheffield.co.uk, rather than the old one, to peruse them.

Delivery took half an hour and we paid by credit card over the phone. Crucially, the food was all still piping hot on arrival, sealed in containers.

My starter of calamari inferno (220 calories) was soft and succulent squid rings, without a hint of squeakiness.

It came doused in a fiery sauce with plenty of garlic, chilli and tomato that gave the tongue a good kicking.

His Milanese chicken was actually a main, but served with crisp mixed salad instead of chips it was a suitable size. The chicken had been hammered thin but remained tender and was seasoned to perfection.

For a dieting main it had to be seabass, one of the most expensive dishes on the various menus at £8.20.

I was pleased it had travelled so well, although the fillet did come apart slightly as it was lifted onto the plate.

The fish was firm and slightly sweet, with plenty of fresh lemon and garlic flavour bursting from it, and scattered parsley as a pleasing garnish. For 421 calories there is also a dash of white wine and olive oil.

It needed a side, and large Italian seasoned roast potatoes (320 calories) were crispy on the outside and fluffy inside.

We shared a flavoursome tomato and onion salad, and his canelloni proved to be excellent comfort food in a ‘beautiful’ creamy sauce with bursts of cheese.

If you spend £30 there is a free bottle of wine - and unsurprisingly a lot of orders are just over that price. He added a full fat panzarotti to meet the milestone, gaining a palatable Cabernet Sauvignon and a lip-lickingly good pastry packed with tomato sauce, mozzarella and meat. We’ve paid more than £35.30, including delivery, for lesser restaurant meals.

Italian Express, South Road, Walkley.

0114 2315757