Friday, June 24, 2011

Pizza with brains

I spent a splendid few hours yesterday in the company of some good friends and possibly some of the most interesting and inspiring people a man could know. They were (L to R): James Harkin, QI 'elf' and one of the BBC TV show's four scriptwriters; Marc Abrahams, creator of the Ig Nobel Awards and publisher of the always excellent Annals of Improbable Research; and Dan Schreiber, QI data miner, stand-up comedian and co-producer of BBC Radio 4's ever-excellent Museum of Curiosity. Individually, they are a stream of interesting facts and fascinating insights. Together, they are a raging torrent.

Three hours passed like minutes as the topics ranged from humanoid robots to terrible nose-related puns to face-related analysis to honour cultures. And, according to the plaque on the outside of the restaurant, we were sat in the UK's oldest pizza restaurant, the Pizza Express in Wardour Street, Soho. Apparently, its first pizza oven was brought all the way over from Rome along with a man to operate it but soon fell into disuse. In 1965, an entrepreneur called Peter Boizot bought the defunct restaurant for £100, borrowing the money off a friend. After a dramatic interior redecoration, pizza was sold at two bob a slice (10p). The reason the chain has jazz playing in the background - or live jazz in the case of some branches - is that Boizot was a huge fan of the Expresso Luna in Frankfurt, where jazz and pizza went hand in hand. He tried to bring that same ambience to London but, despite its good value, it took a while for it to catch on with the fish and chips and Beatles-loving Brits but it eventually did and Boizot was soon able to open a second restaurant in Coptic Street. The rest is, as they say, history.

There's always something interesting to find out wherever you are.

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